New York Life/NAGC Conduct First-Ever Poll of Grieving Kids: Childhood Loss Can Create a Heavy Burden Borne in Isolation; Friends, Family and School Key to Restoring a Sense of Balance
Bereavement Exacts Toll on Many Levels:
- 75% of bereaved kids say they are currently sad
- 41% have reacted to their loss in harmful ways -- physically, emotionally or mentally
- Many worry about losing surviving parent or guardian
Support from Individuals, Schools Often Falls Short:
- Kids value communication about loss, but feel it’s lacking: Many say “most people don’t know how to talk to you after a loved one dies”
- Half of kids give school no better than “C” grade at helping them cope
Kids Strive to Be Resilient But Need Understanding and Support:
- Two-thirds still continue to “enjoy life,” most say the future will “hopefully still be good”
- Many find it helpful to talk to others who have experienced grief
An Opportunity to Help: New York Life Foundation Offers “Grief Journey of a Child,” Brochure with Kids’ Views on Grief, Tips on Helping
NEW YORK, MARCH 15, 2012 – Kids who have lost a parent or sibling bear a burden of sorrow and anxiety, yet they strive to be resilient in the face of their grief and greatly value the support of friends, family and the community, according to the results of a first-ever nationwide poll of bereaved kids released today by the New York Life Foundation and the National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC).
Dealing with the death of a loved one is crushing, the findings show. Three-quarters (75%) of the kids surveyed say they are currently sad – even though, for the survey sample, the loss was experienced on average more than two years ago. Nearly seven of 10 kids agree the death of their loved one was the worst thing that ever happened to them. More than two in five (41 percent) said that in reaction to their loss they had acted in ways that they knew might not be good for them either physically, emotionally or mentally.
“The death of a loved one is incredibly hard and isolating for children,” said Chris Park, president of the New York Life Foundation. “It engenders sadness, anger, loneliness, confusion, guilt – emotions that all too often are suffered in isolation. Kids in grief are trying hard to cope and heal, but it’s clear that they desperately need our help to do so.
“But we are a grief-averse society, apparently hoping that if we just ignore grief, it will go away,” Park said. “As a result, families in grief – children in particular – often are left to suffer alone and in silence, without sufficient understanding and support from the people and institutions that could truly make a difference for them.”
The New York Life Foundation /NAGC poll of 531 kids age 18 and under who have lost a parent or sibling was conducted in-person at bereavement centers nationwide between November 21, 2011 and January 5, 2012. It is believed to be the first public opinion poll of grieving children.
“The poll results are clear,” Park said. “Friends, neighbors, teachers and counselors – and society at large – all have a crucial role to play helping kids regain some equilibrium.”
More children may be struggling with loss than may be commonly thought. A survey of 1,006 adults conducted in late 2009 by New York Life with Comfort Zone Camp, a leading provider of bereavement support services for children, found that one of nine Americans had lost a parent before age 20; one in seven had lost a parent or sibling before turning 20.
“We need to bring childhood grief out of the shadows,” Park said. “It’s critical to help kids give voice to their struggles and hopes – and in the process, shed light on what each of us can do to help. We can’t eliminate their grief journey, but we can ease their burden along the way.”
The Daily Challenge of School
For grieving kids, resuming normal life following loss demands successfully navigating the school day. For many, this task becomes harder.
Nearly half of kids say they are having more trouble concentrating on school work and about three in 10 say they are not doing as well in school as before. Just 27 percent say that going to school after their loss was helpful.
The poll suggests that schools are challenged to provide meaningful support to kids in grief. When asked to grade their school and teachers on “helping me deal with my loved one’s death,” most kids assigned them either a “C” (15 percent), a “D” (10 percent) or an “F” (23 percent).
Bereaved parents confirmed this view in a poll conducted by the NAGC and the New York Life Foundation in summer 2011. In that poll, about four in 10 parents said their children’s school was not well prepared to help their children deal with their loss.
“During the week, kids spend as many of their waking hours in school as they do at home. In many ways, school becomes the public frame of reference for their grief,” said David Schonfeld, MD, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. “Kids are pretty good at picking up on social cues. If their teachers and other adults at school seem uncomfortable or uninterested in their loss, they learn quickly they will have to deal with their grief alone.
“Of course, educators have their hands full just managing the day-to-day demands of educating our kids, and we are not suggesting that educators be expected to counsel grieving children,” Dr. Schonfeld said. “That said, for kids, much of life is all about school, which means that teachers and counselors have a considerable opportunity to lend support. Being helpful is frequently just as simple as the act of inquiring, lending a word of support or encouragement, or creating a little greater understanding and awareness in the classroom, lunch room or schoolyard.
“But individual teachers and counselors can’t do it alone,” he said. “School administrations and schools of education need to ensure all school staff learn more about grief’s impact and consider how to better support the professionals who are in daily and direct contact with grieving kids.”
Interestingly, though frequently more of a challenge for bereaved kids, school becomes for many an opportunity to work through their grief: About half say they remember and honor their loved one by “trying to do well in school.”
“The fact that so many grieving kids view their success at school as a ‘living memorial’ to a loved one is all the more reason to ensure that schools are attentive and helpful to kids following a loss,” Dr. Schonfeld said.
Healing Can Begin with Communication
The findings suggest that, following a loss, just the mere act of communicating about one’s loss is a struggle.
A little more than half of bereaved kids agree that after their parent died their friends were very helpful and supportive, but at the same time more than four in 10 say their “friends did not understand what I was going through.” Half agree that talking to their friends about their loss is hard. Nearly four in 10 said that “most people don’t know how to talk to you after your loved one dies.”
In the 2011 NAGC/New York Life poll, more than half – 56% -- of bereaved parents agreed that “most adults don't know how to talk to me or my kids when we run into them.” Nearly six of 10 parents said that, after their loss, friends stopped talking with them and 70% agreed that some of their friends or co-workers seemed uncomfortable around them.
Yet, a little communication can go a long way.
Four in 10 kids say “I like it when people talk about my loved one or share memories about them,” and the same number found that “talking to others who have gone through the same thing” was a helpful way to cope following their loss. Parents affirm the value of communication: In the 2011 poll, nine in 10 bereaved parents said they wished people understood that “it’s better to say something and risk upsetting me than to ignore my loss altogether.”
New York Life Foundation Offers Information, Guidance, Support
The New York Life Foundation has long been focused on serving children in need. In 2008, the Foundation expanded that focus to include an initiative to help children deal with the loss of a parent, caregiver or sibling and to help parents and other caring adults help children deal with the emotional turmoil that results from the death of a close family member.
As part of its commitment, the Foundation has created a brochure, “The Grief Journey of a Child,” intended to help individuals help kids and families who are grieving. The brochure includes an overview of the kids’ poll and related key findings, kids talking about grief in their own words, a perspective on childhood grief from a leading bereavement expert, and some tips and resources for concerned friends of all ages.
The Foundation has a Website, www.AChildInGrief.com, which offers additional informational and educational resources for parents, kids, educators, and the public regarding loss. Those resources include a downloadable brochure, “After a Loved One Dies – How Children Grieve,” offering advice and guidance to parents and other caregivers as they help children cope with their grief and fear following a death in the family. For more information, please visit www.AChildInGrief.com.
Support also is available at www.ChildrenGrieve.org, offered by the National Alliance for Grieving Children, including guides for parents and educators, resources for professionals and volunteers providing support to grieving children, and an interactive map identifying family bereavement centers across the nation.
On Wednesday, March 21, Chris Park, who is president of the New York Life Foundation, will moderate a Twitter chat from 3:00-4:00 pm ET, offering tips and discussion around this important topic. Search Twitter for #NYLTips to join the conversation.
About the Poll
The New York Life Foundation/National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) poll was conducted in-person at bereavement centers during group sessions between November 21, 2011 and January 5, 2012. Children and teenagers under the age of 19 were given printed copies of the survey, customized with questions pertaining to the gender and type of family member they lost (parent or sibling). An adult Group Leader read each question and response category aloud, allotting time for every participant to answer. Surveys were immediately sealed in an envelope and sent to New York Life Foundation for data processing. Participation in the survey was strictly voluntary and all answers remained confidential. In a similarly sized random sample survey, the margin of error (at the 95% confidence level) for the total population in this study (531) would be plus or minus approximately 4.3 percentage points. The question “How long ago did your loved one die?” was answered by 497 respondents; the mean response was 2.2 years. The polling was overseen by Mathew Greenwald & Associates, a premier full service market research firm headquartered in Washington, D.C.
About the New York Life Foundation
Inspired by New York Life’s tradition of service and humanity, the New York Life Foundation has, since its founding in 1979, provided more than $155 million in charitable contributions to national and local nonprofit organizations. Through its focus on “Nurturing the Children,” the Foundation supports programs that benefit young people, particularly in the areas of educational enhancement and childhood bereavement. The Foundation also encourages and facilitates the community involvement of employees, agents, and retirees of New York Life through its Volunteers for Life program. To learn more, please visit the Foundation's Web site at www.newyorklifefoundation.org.
About the National Alliance for Grieving Children
The National Alliance for Grieving Children (NAGC) promotes awareness of the needs of children and teens grieving a death and provides education and resources for anyone who wants to support them. NAGC provides a network for nationwide communication between hundreds of children's bereavement centers, helping professionals, and concerned individuals who want to share ideas, information and resources with each other to better support the families they serve in their own communities. To learn more, please visit www.ChildrenGrieve.org.