The Whole Child Initiative

In 2015, Good Grief launched The Whole Child Initiative to proactively advocate for grieving children and families. Research identified four areas where children are most vulnerable: peer groups, family unit, school, and community-at- large. Through education and advocacy to targeted audiences with the most impact on grieving children, The Whole Child Initiative aggressively raises awareness and empowers communities to be more effective in providing support.


The Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child identified childhood bereavement as a toxic stressor, comparing it to abuse and neglect and stating:

“Learning how to cope with adversity is an important part of healthy child development. When we are threatened, our bodies prepare us to respond by increasing our heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones, such as cortisol. When a young child’s stress response systems are activated within an environment of supportive relationships with adults, these physiological effects are buffered and brought back down to baseline. The result is the development of healthy stress response systems. However, if the stress response is extreme and long-lasting, and buffering relationships are unavailable to the child, the result can be damaged, weakened systems and brain architecture, with lifelong repercussions.”

It’s important to distinguish among three kinds of responses to stress: positive, tolerable, and toxic. Good Grief’s programs facilitate children from toxic stress to positive stress and post-traumatic growth.

When a child under age five experiences the sudden death of a parent or sibling, they are at a higher risk for adjustment and mental health stressors.

With supportive relationships, serious difficulties, such as the loss of a loved one, are buffered as children learn to cope. Without support, tolerable stress becomes toxic.

Peer support positively increases adjustment of children and adolescents, lowering the toxic response to stress.

Children who receive peer support following the death of a parent or sibling show improved signs of behavior such as:

  • better adjustment,
  • improved self-esteem,
  • improved self-efficacy, and
  • feel more connected to the deceased parent or sibling.

Research shows it is more beneficial for children to be with others who have suffered similar tragedy or loss. Bereaved children report that friendships with other bereaved children are more helpful than non-bereaved friends.

Professional Summary

Good Grief provides the critical support necessary, as outlined by Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, to transition the toxic stressor of childhood bereavement into tolerable stress. Therefore, Good Grief’s preventative programs are having an immediate and lifelong impact on the children in our care.


Good Grief’s advocacy efforts communicate the needs of grieving children to professionals who interact directly with grieving children on a regular basis. By advocating for the needs of grieving children, we raise awareness, reduce stigma around death and grief, and provide knowledge and resources to the individuals whose impact is significant on the growth and development of grieving children.

Some examples of our advocacy materials include:

  • School “kits” for teachers, counselors, nurses, administrators
  • Classroom tips to support grieving children
  • Understanding childhood bereavement fact sheets
  • Tips sheets for funeral homes, holidays, communicating with grieving kids
  • And many more…


Last year, we touched more than 120,000 children through our education and advocacy efforts. Through The Whole Child Initiative, Good Grief reduces risk factors and promotes positive outcomes in the lives of grieving children, equipping them for their future and life throughout adulthood.


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