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State College children's grief peer support program helps those in need

A woman and her son stand next to each other.
Sydney Roach
Emily Aten-Newberry and her son Tyler Aten stand next to each other during "Tides Night" on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023.

November is National Children’s Grief Awareness Month. A State College peer support group for grieving children, teens and families is promoting the importance of having a positive support system while also hosting a “flip the script” campaign.

Holly Oxendale, the Tides executive director, said the campaign helps the community do a better job of talking to people who are grieving.

“So one of the 'flip the script' examples, instead of saying, ‘The holiday must be so hard for you,’ try saying, ‘I'm so happy to see you. I know sometimes the holidays can be harder after someone dies.’ Instead of saying, ‘You need to be strong’, say, ‘You might feel like you need to be strong, but you don't have to be with me,’” Oxendale said.

Tides is sharing other examples of ways to “flip the script” on its social media pages.

An infographic depicting different ways to talk about loss and grief.
Example of how to "flip the script" from the National Alliance for Children's Grief.

Thursday, Nov. 16 was National Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Tides hosted its “Tides Night” at the Mount Nittany Elementary School. It’s a peer support group for kids, teenagers and families.

Emily Aten-Newberry is a volunteer at Tides and explained the organization's name.

“It's talking about waves going up, coming down. Sometimes you have a season of crashing and you need extra help and support and you come back,” Aten-Newberry said.

She’s been coming to Tides Night since 2018 when her husband died from cancer.

“I'm not sure where I would be without this group. It's just really nice having people in your community who are going through it. There's tons of online groups, but having them here face to face, us all being together is really important,” Aten-Newberry said.

Aten-Newberry said the program has also been helpful to her 8-year-old son, Tyler Aten. He was 3-years-old when his father died.

This is why Tyler said he likes coming to Tides Night: “Being with other kids who've also lost somebody in their life.”

At the start of the night, everyone stays in the same room to eat, play games and talk. Then adults go into groups based on their type of loss, while kids are split up between age groups.

Tyler’s mom said it’s a place for him to feel understood and relate to other kids. She said she’ll let him come as long as he wants.

Holly Oxendale, the executive director of Tides, said the most rewarding part of the job is watching friendships bloom.

“We've formed communities here and friendships and relationships. We see them in Tides Nights, and then we also see them when they're outside of Tides Nights,” Oxendale said. “They form a community and they're going over to each other's houses and having pool parties during the summer and getting together and it's not even Tides related, but it came from Tides.”

According to the JAG Institute’s 2023 Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model Report, 1 in 12 children in the United States will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the age of 18.

As part of National Children’s Grief Awareness Month, WPSU will host a free workshop on grief for adults who care for, work with or support children ages 2-18 on Nov. 29. The workshop will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at WPSU’s studio in Innovation Park.

Copyright 2023 WPSU. To see more, visit WPSU.