This guest post is from Morgan Mabry, Director of Gender & Well-Being at BGCA, and is first in a two-part series for Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
Grief is an all too familiar experience for many of the young people we serve. It is estimated that 1 in 20 children in the U.S. will experience the death of a parent or sibling before the age of 18 and the vast majority of children will experience major life-altering losses by the time they reach young adulthood.
It is the Boys & Girls Clubs’ mission to serve young people, especially those who need us most. Responding to youth dealing with loss is a vital way that we support and serve our young people during critical times when they need us more than ever. Clubs have a major role to play in the grief journey of youth. Staff’s response to a member’s grief can serve as a source of support and stability during a difficult time. Grief can have a serious impact on the academic performance, social relationships and behavior of a young person. By demonstrating care and support, staff have an enormous opportunity to improve outcomes for the youth we serve. Here are 10 ways to help youth who are grieving in your Club:
- TAKE CARE OF YOU: As Club staff, you have to remember to take care of your own mental, physical and emotional well-being. Grieving members will do better when they have a healthy adult providing a supportive relationship.
- BE HONEST WITH MEMBERS: Discuss the member’s grief in a simple, honest direct and age appropriate manner. Members need to build supportive relationships with staff.
- LISTEN: Listen to a member share their story about what happened. Let them ask you questions and answer their questions as best as you can. Do not be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
- RECOGNIZE A MEMBER’S GRIEF: Recognize when a member is grieving. It is normal for youth to feel an array of emotions, including sadness, anger, frustration and fear and to move in and out grief reactions or act like nothing happened. Try to engage one-on-one with a member if you are not sure how their grief is impacting them. Playing with them, doing an art project or sharing stories may help.
- SHARE: Share stories about times in your life when you were afraid, sad or angry and how you dealt with these situations and what you learned. Sharing your stories can help normalize what the member is feeling and give them hope that things will get better.
- BE CREATIVE: Clubs create a fun, safe and positive environment for members. Continue to give that member a creative outlet through games and activities where they can express their feelings.
- MAINTAIN CLEAR EXPECTATIONS: Clubs consistently communicate expectations and opportunities to members. Keep the rules and boundaries in your Club consistent. Youth may use their grief as an excuse for inappropriate behavior. While you should acknowledge the grief, you should remind them good character development and leadership means being accountable no matter how they feel.
- REASSURE THE MEMBER: Remind the member that you care about them. A child experiencing grief or loss may have their sense of security shaken and need supportive relationships.
- HELP THE MEMBER CREATE MEMORIES TO HONOR THEIR GRIEF: Rituals or traditions can give members tangible ways to acknowledge their grief or honor the memory of someone they lose. Help the member decide which rituals or traditions they can create to help them express their grief.
- BE PATIENT: Be patient when a member experiences grief. Grief can change us in many ways. A member may need more individualized attention while they are grieving as they continue to grow.
The New York Life Foundation has partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of America to help Clubs provide a supportive environment for grieving children and their families. For more information on how your Club can support youth who are grieving, check out the Be There initiative on BGCA.net. Be There is a comprehensive approach to help Clubs build supportive relationships and integrate best practices in supporting youth experiencing loss.
We also encourage Boys & Girls Club staff to listen to our Be There podcast series, now live on Spillett Leadership University. Topics include the role of Clubs in buffering the impact of childhood trauma, bereavement in children and teens, how Clubs can respond to a death of a member or staff, and how to help children grieving a major life altering loss. These 25 minute video podcasts, developed with the National Alliance for Grieving Children, are filled with practical tips and are excellent learning opportunities.
Morgan has been with the Movement for 5 1/2 years, and worked at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta prior to coming to BGCA. In her free time, she can be found on the volleyball court.