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For Children of Laid-Off Workers, A Way to Deal with Questions, Anger

November 30, 1991

EDINA, Minn. (AP) _ When 5-year-old Josiah Gulden started picking fights with his brother and wetting his bed, his parents knew why he was angry - his father had been laid off.

Like thousands of other households touched by the recession, the Guldens had to deal not only with the loss of a steady paycheck but with the emotions of children who don’t understand why Mommy or Daddy doesn’t have a job any more.

Unlike most, though, the Guldens found help - in the form of a book that presents basic questions that adults who have lost a job might not think to ask their children.

″When a Parent Loses a Job,″ published by the not-for-profit National Childhood Grief Institute, based in this Minneapolis suburb, was designed to help children cope with the range of emotions associated with a parent’s job loss. It’s an issue that the book’s author and an independent expert agreed has been largely overlooked.

Job loss produces a ripple effect through the family, said Ronald Nathan, an associate psychology professor at the Albany Medical College in Albany, N.Y., who has studied job-loss stress.

″It is a time for a family to pull together and to help parents to accept some of the grief by sharing it,″ Nathan said. ″Particularly, teens need to maintain a sense of hope and learn how to persist. It’s very helpful to watch parents deal with life’s blows.″

Helping children deal with those same blows was a logical step for the Children’s Grief Institute and its executive director, Denise McNaught, 40, a former nurse who worked with cancer-stricken children.

The institute grew out of divorce support groups for adults and children at McNaught’s church. The institute, launched in 1988, is a mental health clinic with eight employees offering individual therapy, producing publications and providing community education.

It also trains the public and professionals on childhood grief associated with divorce, bereavement, trauma and, lately, parental job loss.

″Nobody’s doing the children’s component,″ McNaught said. ″Corporations are just beginning to be sensitive to family issues.″

For the Gulden family, the puzzle in young Josiah’s behavior was not so much its cause as its object. His parents, Lonnie and Alison Gulden of Eden Prairie, another Minneapolis suburb, thought their son was angry at his father. But that notion was dispelled after they turned to McNaught’s $8.95 book.

″The book asked him, ‘What makes you angry?’ His answer was he was mad at the company for not raising more money to pay his daddy,‴ Mrs. Gulden said.

That was a relief for Josiah’s mother and his father, who was out of work for six months before finding another upper management job.

Indeed, Josiah’s parents discovered through asking him the workbook’s questions that their son had very mixed feelings.

″He talked about being sad for his daddy and happy to have his dad at home,″ Mrs. Gulden said.

The book ″takes the thinking out of it for you,″ Mrs. Gulden said. ″You get a pen and let them sit there and talk.″

It also tries to turn a parent’s layoff into a positive learning experience by asking children to list their parents’ accomplishments outside of the job and ways to show parents that they’re special.

″Some kids think that because their parent has lost a job that that makes the parent a bad person. But remember, what makes us special is not our job, but who we are,″ the book says.

Several major companies have asked for copies of the 36-page book, and two placement companies that help corporations assist their laid-off employees are talking with McNaught about working with them next year, she said.

″I’ve worked with grieving children and their families all my life,″ said McNaught. ″This is just a different kind of grief.″


The National Childhood Grief Institute’s address is 3300 Edinborough Way, Suite 512, Minneapolis, Minn. 55435. The phone number is (612) 832-9286.