Needs of Grieving Children/Teens Addressed in Essay Contest



Student Essay Winners: Anthony and Emily

Needs of Grieving Children/Teens Addressed in Essay Contest

Who wants to talk or write about grief when you're a teenager? Well apparently there are a few teens who were open to the idea. Hospice of Wilkes Regional Medical Center sponsored an Essay Contest for local high school students addressing that very subject. The participants answered the question "What makes it difficult for children and teens to grieve in our society?". The purpose of the contest was to raise awareness about the needs of grieving children and teens in our community. First place winner Anthony Wyatt and 2nd place winner Emily Severt received their award money,($100 and $50 respectively) in Jim Brook’s English Class at West High this week.

Helen Clark, at Hospice of WRMC got the idea for the contest after learning about the number of students in one of the middle schools who had lost a loved one. Counselors Chris Gambill and Tosha Mathis invited Hospice to come in and help with some of their students who had experienced a death in the family. The special group they set up proved to be a rewarding experience for the children as well as the facilitators.

In the meantime, Clark heard from other counselors who were concerned about grieving students. To reach out to more schools and students, Clark sought help from graduate students in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Appalachian State. Hospice collaborated with the Wilkes County Board of Education plus school counselors Chris Gambill and Lynne Moree to create a very special internship opportunity which allows the grads to spend time with Hospice as well as time in the schools. Clark credits Billie Jo Scott at the BOE and the counselors with getting this project off the ground.

Two Practicum students with obvious skills applied for the position. As a result, students Kelly McConkey and Anna Clay are helping Clark work with counselors at different schools to provide extra support to children dealing with loss.
Adults can often feel helpless about how to help children and teens who are dealing with loss. Anthony Wyatt wrote in his essay: "From the society they grow up in, to the games they play or movies they watch, children are exposed to a variety of ways to cope with sorrow. With there being so many contradictory ways to grieve shown to children and teens, it isn't so much that it is difficult for them to grieve, it is rather that they don't know how to show it or cope with it."

Wyatt continues, "in the American South it is generally thought that boys shouldn't cry, because they need to be 'tough' and grow up to be men who internalize pain…" He also cites television and movies as providing contradictory visions of grief for males and females. Last but not least, Wyatt mentions the numbing effect that violent video games have on young people. "These games do not give kids any view of grieving….Children need to be taught that grief is natural and that it shouldn't be dulled or muffled."

Second place winner, Emily Severt, also refers to the role society plays in making it more difficult for children to grieve. "Unfortunately, our society today does not have the mentality that we are all in this together….the world does not stop turning no matter how bad someone may be hurting." She mentioned an event in which a friend was in a car accident and she felt "overwhelmed" trying to be supportive of her friend while meeting the demands of her coursework and other obligations.

Severt writes, "While everyone else surrounding them seems to be preoccupied with arrangements or grieving in their own way, the child may feel alone and without someone they can trust to talk to about the way they feel."

Both Wyatt and Severt bring up excellent points that adults can learn from. Adults should remember that males and females need to feel free to express the full range of emotions while grieving. For instance, it is OK for boys to cry and for girls to get angry.

While it might be impossible to keep children from playing violent video games, it is still possible for adults to have a dialogue with children about what is taking place in the games and how unrealistic the scenarios are. This might actually provide an opportunity to discuss the reality of death, dying and the grieving process which occurs afterwards. Another good opening for a teaching moment is when a child looses a pet.

Primarily, if adults can role model appropriate responses to the grieving process and take time to educate children about death and dying, then children will learn correct responses which will help them with their grief. Involving children in the discussion about what is taking place is always helpful. The "dragon" becomes much more frightening if nobody talks about it around a child. Children automatically learn that anything mentionable is manageable.

Adults who would like more information about how to help a grieving child can contact Helen Clark at Hospice of WRMC 903-7732. There are also several resources available through the school system which any of the counselors can assist with. They can provide individual counseling" possible group opportunities" or make referrals out to counselors who enter the schools or see clients in private offices. Hospice of WRMC will be holding their grief camp for children and teens in the late spring of this year.

Hospice appreciates the current collaboration which exists with the Wilkes BOE and the school counselors and hopes to continue providing more outreach to children/teens through these joint efforts. Ms Clark wants to thank Pat Mazza at the BOE and Jim Brooks at West High for the special role they played in making the essay contest possible.

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