Letters from TAPS: From the Youth Program Director

Author: Heather Campagna

Heather CampagnaTAPS Youth Programs had a wonderful summer this year! We had our largest ever National Good Grief Camp, several Regional Good Grief Camps including our two day event at Fort Hood, and four overnight Camp Erin/TAPS Grief Camps. For those who have brought your child to a Good Grief Camp in the past, thank you for sharing your child with us! 

Good Grief Camp is an amazing place where a child or teen knows immediately that he is safe. There is no judgment, just understanding. The children learn coping skills, build support systems, and normalize their feelings; but most of all they learn that they are not alone. The support the children provide to each other—having a chance to tell their stories and listen and empathize with another’s hurt— forges a bond that cannot be easily broken. This support is strengthened by trained military mentors who stand beside them along the way and remind them that they will always be a part of this incredible military family.

Now that summer has ended and our children have returned to school, we wanted to provide you with a few tips on what may help your child be more successful at school. We realize that some schools are very supportive and others, unfortunately, are not. Often they do not understand that there is no time limit on grief; a child never actually “gets over it.” It is important to communicate with your child’s school, so let us know if there is a way we can help facilitate this communication.

Talk to your child’s teacher(s): There are so many situations that arise at school that could be avoided with just knowledge of the death and where your child is with their grief.

Create a safe place to go: If it gets overwhelming and they need some time away from the watchful eyes of their peers, find a place for them to go. This could be the office of a guidance counselor or favorite teacher, an empty classroom, or a library, but it needs to be identified in advance so no one has to search for your child.

Identify someone to talk to: It is important for a child to identify someone to talk to at school—someone they can trust and have access to during the school day.

Talk to the guidance counselor and administrator: Make them aware and together come up with a plan of how to best support your child through their grief.

Be consistent: Talk about expectations, responsibilities, and consequences.

Set boundaries: Teens would say they disagree, but children and teens are looking to find what is acceptable and what is not. They often push the boundaries until they know where they are. Be aware of this when you set those boundaries and stick to them, with an understanding that you can be flexible too.

Understand that grades may drop: A common reaction to grief is that concentration and memory are affected. It is important for everyone to understand that this is normal, and then work to pull up those grades.

Encourage your child to find an outlet for their grief: Some like to draw, sing, journal, or exercise. Whatever it is, help them identify it and use it!

We hope this helps you prepare your child or teen for school this year. For additional support, see Linda Goldman’s article, “Responding to Teen Grief,” on page 20 of this issue. If there is anything we can do to help you or your child, please don’t hesitate to let us know. We truly are here for you and your family.

Thank you again for sharing your kiddos with us! We look forward to our next time together! 

Heather Campagna  

By Heather Campagna, TAPS Youth Program Director