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For Children of Laid-Off Workers, a Way to Deal With Questions, Anger

January 6, 1992

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 households touched by the recession, the family had to deal with not only the loss of a 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 - a book that elicits answers to basic questions that unemployed adults might not think to ask their children.

″When a Parent Loses a Job,″ published by the non-profit National Childhood Grief Institute, based in this Minneapolis suburb, was designed to help children cope with a parent’s job loss. It’s an issue that the book’s author and an independent expert agreed has been largely overlooked.

″There is a ripple effect through the family of job loss,″ said Ronald Nathan, an associate psychology professor at Albany Medical College in New York, 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. 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, a 40- year-old former nurse who worked with cancer-stricken children.

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

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 Josiah’s behavior was not so much its cause as its object. His parents, Lonnie and Alison Gulden of suburban Eden Prairie, thought their son was angry at his father. But that notion was dispelled after they turned to the workbook written by McNaught.

″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 answer was an enormous relief for Josiah’s mother and father, who was out of work for six months before finding another upper management job in sales and marketing for a high-technology company.

Indeed, Josiah’s parents discovered through asking him the workbook’s questions that their son had mixed feelings. ″He talked about being sad for his daddy and happy to have his dad at home,″ Mrs. Gulden said.

She said they were given the $8.95 workbook when her husband was among a few people who admitted at a job transition support group that their children were having problems dealing with the job loss.

The workbook tries to turn a parent’s job loss into a positive learning experience by asking children about their parents’ accomplishments outside of work.

Several major U.S. companies have asked for copies of the 36-page workbook, and two companies that help corporations assist laid-off employees, are talking with McNaught, she said.

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

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

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