Tag Archive | Fred Rogers

Tough Boys

When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother wold say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”

To this day, especially in times of  “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers.  So many caring people in this world.

– Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)


A few weeks ago I brought my kids to a local park to enjoy the beautiful weather.  My heart began to beat faster  when one boy flew off the merry-go-round and onto the ground. He looked to be around 6 years old.  The boy was trying to be brave and not cry.  His father responded by saying, “If his mom was here, he would be bawling.”

I thought about this incident during the ride home.  Why is a boy more likely to cry in front of Mom, but not Dad?  I have encountered boys in school that grew up with the notion that “boys need to be tough” and “boys don’t cry.”  I recall one boy being told that he is now “the man of the house” after the death of his father.  It was tremendous pressure for a grieving boy in elementary school.

My counseling experience has taught me that boys grieve differently from girls.  Teachers often report more behavior issues in the classroom with grieving boys; such as, not focusing and aggression.  Girls would sit down and discuss feelings openly, even after meeting with me for the first time.  It proved to be more difficult with boys.  Parents and teachers sometimes struggle in helping boys who are grieving a loss.


How can parents, teachers, and counselors help boys who are grieving?


1.  Talk during an activity.  Take a walk, play a game, or throw a ball back and forth.  

When I was a school counselor in Maryland, I met with a second grade boy to shoot hoops once a week.  He was experiencing the death of his father and the loss of not seeing his mother.  The teachers in that school were amazing and realized the importance of counseling.  I was encouraged to meet with students during instruction time, instead of only recess and lunch.  He was in a comfort zone and easily talked about his feelings while we payed basketball.


2.  Teach boys that no matter how emotionally painful life becomes, violence is NEVER an option.

Have a plan in place.  What will he do when he feels angry?  What will he do when he feels sad?  These discussions need to begin in elementary school and continue through every grade.  I already began this conversation with my 4-year-old son.  He hides under our kitchen table when upset, but I never know the reason.  I help him to talk about it.  When his sister teases him and he feels like punching her, I teach him to use his “words.”

I had the opportunity to attend a conference by the United States Secret Service at Penn State.  The agent interviewed boys that were involved in school shootings.  I will never forget what he said.  Every boy wished that one adult would have acknowledged him at school.  Simply said “hello” in the hallway.  They thought no one cared about them.  Some were bullied.  I can’t even imagine how that feels.

Not every boy who is bullied will engage in violence, but it is important to be proactive and reach out to every boy in a school.  Teachers and adults in the school need to make it a priority.  For example, after class a teacher could take a minute to check in with a boy that has appeared to be more withdrawn than usual.


3.  Teach boys to find the “helpers” in life.

Who can he talk to about his feelings?  I was surprised to see the negative association with school counseling when I began a career in Pennsylvania.  I invited students to have lunch with me during the first few months.  A few parents called me about it.  It was a big deal to see the counselor.  After talking to me, they appreciated that I was trying to get to know everyone.  However, it took time.   Call your pediatrician for a referral to a therapist if your child could benefit from counseling.  Counselors can be certified in play therapy, which is a type of therapy that uses sand, puppets, and art.


4.  Contact the school counselor to inquire if there is a bereavement support group offered at your child’s school. 

Support groups are beneficial because they support the notion that “I am not the only one going through a loss.”  If a support group is not offered, the school counselor should be familiar with groups available in the community.  During the summer months, bereavement camps might be available in your area. 


5.  If you are a teacher/educator in a school, be aware of bullying that may take place during lunch and recess. 

Boys may be vulnerable to bullying because they are in an emotional state.  Grieving children can be the target to bullies.  It is difficult to believe that a child could be teased for the death of a parent, but sadly it is a reality.


6.  Continue with a normal routine.

If your boy is involved in a sport or activity, do not take a break from it.  He will benefit socially and emotionally by being around friends and coaches that can show support.  


If you are a parent or guardian of a boy that is grieving a loss, let him know that he is not alone.  Tell him there are many helpers in this world that care.






Helping Your Child to Communicate Feelings

“Anything that’s human is mentionable and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.  When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.  The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

– Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers)

How well does your child communicate his or her feelings to others?  Does your child arrive home from school and tell you every detail of his or her day?  Or is it a struggle to find out any information about your child’s school day?  I have a daughter that arrives home from school with detailed information about her day –  what she had for lunch, who she played with at recess, and how she performed on her math test.  On the other hand, I have to ask several questions to obtain information from my son.  

After a loss, a child may see family members upset and will not want to further upset them.  Consequently, the child will not discuss his or her feelings about the loss to their family members.  There are strategies that parents can implement to help children communicate.  The following strategies can be used at home:

1.   Ask open-ended questions.  

Do not ask questions that require one word responses; such as, “Did you have a good day?”   

The following statements are open-ended:  

“Who did you play with at recess today?”

“What do you miss the most about your dad?”

“What do you like/ dislike about your new school?”  

“Tell me about your new teacher…”

2.  Talk to your child during an activity.  

Some children will be more open to discuss their feelings when engaged in an activity.  For example, a good time to ask your child questions could be while shooting hoops, taking a walk, and playing a board game.   During dinner, have every family member share a “HIGH” and “LOW” for the day.  A “HIGH” is something positive and a “LOW” is something negative that occurred during the day.   You can make up your own names.  At my house, we say, “LEMON and LEMONADE.”  My kids love to begin dinner with our “Lemonades.”  President Obama and his family say  “ROSE and THORN.”  I would always  begin a support group with this activity and even the quiet children would always want to share.  

3.  Ask your child to draw how he or she is feeling.  One of my favorite activities is to paint with Kool-Aid.  

Mix packets of Kool-Aid in small amounts of water in paper cups.  Q-tips make great paint brushes.  The child is instructed to use different colors to show how he or she is feeling.  It smells great and is fun at the same time!   Make sure to place paper where the child will be painting because Kool-Aid can stain.  I have used this activity with my Safe Harbor support groups.   Before painting, I explain how colors can represent feelings and show a few paintings completed by different artists. We discuss what they imagine the artist was feeling when the picture was painted.  

4.  Journal writing for an older child.  

Encourage your child to write his or her feelings about the loss in the journal.  Do not read your child’s journal unless your child has asked you to read it.   

* On a final note,  you might consider contacting the school counselor at your child’s school.  The school counselor will have books on different types of losses and can be a source of support for your child.  The school counselor may offer support groups on loss in the school or will be familiar with bereavement centers that offer support groups in the area.