Children who experienced the death of a parent were compared to clinically depressed children and a control group in this study measuring anxiety.
None of the bereaved children met the DSM-III-R criteria for anxiety disorder, although an increase of anxiety was recorded.
Anxiety about the possible death of another family member were slightly higher eight weeks after the death than immediately after the death. Especially when the child was at the funeral.
Source: Sanchez, L, Fristad, M, Weller, R.A. and Moye, J. Anxiety in acutely bereaved prepubertal children. Annual of Clinical Psychiatry, 1994, 6 (1): 39-43.
The child’s adjustment after the death of a parent.
In a study conducted with school children bereaved and non-bereaved children were compared.
Shortly after the death of a parent very little difference was found in measures of emotional well-being.
However, after two years the bereaved children showed higher levels of social withdrawal, social problems and anxiety as well as lower levels of self-esteem.
In approximately 20% of the bereaved children these levels were such as to indicate that the children would benefit from professional assistance.
Source: Worden, J.W. & Silverman, P.R. Parental death and the adjustment of school-age children. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 1996, 33 (2): 91-102.
Child development and concept of death
This study found no difference in an accurate concept of death (using Piagetian theory) between children who have experienced the death of a sibling and children who have not experienced bereavement. Coming up with ideas for funeral memorial services seemed to connect the child with the adult passing.
The study also discovered that 45.7% of the 5 year olds had an accurate concept of death, as did 60% of the 6-8 year olds and 90-100% of the 9-12 year olds.
Source: Cain, A.C. and Lohnes, K.L. Identificatory symptoms in bereaved children: a diagnostic note. Journal of Development, 16(4), 282-284: 1995
Gender differences in school adjustment after parental separation.
In a study to determine what factors were related to adjustment in school after parental separation some differences were found between boys and girls.
Those girls who reported less blaming of their mother and who reported that mother had positive things to say about the father exhibited good adjustment.
With the boys the following was related to good adjustment: both parents having positive things to say about each other, less blaming of the father for the separation, low fear of abandonment, and good parenting skills by the mother.
Source: Oppenheimer, K., Prinz, R.J. and Bella, B.S. Determinants of adjustment for children of divorcing parents. Family Medicine, 22(2), 107-111, 1990.
Childhood bereavement and adult depression.
Among adults who had experienced the death of a parent in childhood, those who reported a warm, supportive relationship with the surviving parent, freedom from over-protectiveness and having had opportunities to actively grieve displayed lower levels of depressive experiences as adults than those who experienced the opposite.
Source: Saler, L. and Skolnick, N. Childhood parental death and depression in adulthood: roles of surviving parent and family environment. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 62 (4), 504-516, 1992.
What helps a child to mourn?
In this self-report study children mentioned talking to family members, talking to God, yelling, out-of doors activities and art work as being helpful to them in their mourning.
Source: Lehna, C.R. Children’s descriptions of their feelings and what they found helpful during bereavement. American Journal of Hospital and Palliative Care, 1995, 12 (5): 24-30.
Pre-death and post-death anxiety and depression.
Among children with a parent dying of cancer high levels of anxiety and depression were noted. After the death of the parent the level dropped to normal with seven to twelve months
Source: Siegel, K., Karus, D. and Raveis, V.H. Adjustment of children facing the death of a parent due to cancer. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1996, 35 (4): 442-450.
Stability after the death of a parent leads to normal developmental patterns.
The researchers compared children who have experienced the death of a parent with two groups: “normal” school children and depressed in -patients. When a stable home environment was provided for the bereaved children, measures of behavior, self-esteem, interest in school, peer involvement, and peer enjoyment resembled those of the “normal” children.
Source: Fristad, M.A., Jedel, R., Weller, R.A., and Weller, E.B. Psychosocial functioning in children after the death of a parent. American Journal of Psychiatry, 1993, 150(3): 511-513.
“Relationship” with deceased parent leads to effective grieving.
This study took a look at intervention groups for grieving children to see if there were any common threads in effective grieving. One thing they found was that an important aspect of grieving was to maintain an emotion attachment to an internal image of the deceased parent. Rather than encourage children to “put the past behind them”, it would seem that it would be helpful to help the child strengthen the inner representation of the parent.
Source: Lohnes, K.L. and Kalter, N. Preventitive intervention groups for parentally bereaved children. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry: 1994, 64(4): 594-603