Lean on Me offers a helping hand

Support group offers help for grieving children, their parents

When a loved one dies, adults and children both grieve. However, children grieve differently than adults, according to Lisa Cervantez, Lead Child Life Specialist at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. Recognizing there are few programs in the community to help children through the grieving process, Driscoll Children’s Hospital has developed the Lean on Me program, which has been in existence for more than seven years now.

“Our support group gives children a reassuring environment to discuss their feelings,” Cervantez said. “It can be very beneficial for them to be around other children experiencing the loss of a loved one and to learn that they’re not the only ones grieving. Children have the opportunity to create a memory box and make a scrapbook – these and other tools they will take with them to continue helping these children on their grief journey even after the support group concludes.”

Lean on Me is a structured, six-week program for children ages 6 years and older that begins Sept. 7. The program includes bereavement curriculum specially designed for children, and each session builds on the previous one.

With the guidance of Driscoll’s child life specialists, children will be encouraged during meetings to express their feelings through discussion, art and writing.

There will be a children’s group, a teen group and an adult group.

Parents and caregivers are included in the Lean on Me program because the death of a loved one affects the whole family, Cervantez said. Adults will meet for bereavement sessions with Driscoll’s social workers while the children’s group meets with the child life specialists.

“Our goal is to provide a supportive environment for the entire family and to help children and families learn that they can support each other. We help children recognize that it is OK to express their feelings and we encourage caregivers to give children opportunities to talk about how they may be feeling,” Cervantez said. “Caregivers can be hesitant to cry in front of children but it is a normal response during the grief process and it helps children to understand that it is OK to cry.”

Children under the age of 6 are not typically included because they may not be developmentally prepared to participate in a structured group setting for an extended period of time.

There is no charge to participate in the Lean on Me program. Driscoll only asks that families – children and their parents or caregivers – commit to attend the six-week program. Child care will not be available during the program. A light meal will be served to help accommodate busy schedules.

  • What: Lean on Me program for children ages 6 years and older and their parents or caregivers.
  • When: 5:30-7 p.m. Thursdays, Sept. 7 through Oct. 12.
  • Where: Driscoll Children’s Hospital, eighth floor, 3533 S. Alameda St.
  • Information/registration: (361) 694-5048 or child.life@dchstx.org.