Children's Psychological Distress Following the Death of a Parent

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The death of a parent in childhood represents a profound psychological insult. Although a number of studies have examined rates of depression and anxiety in bereaved children, less attention has been given to understanding predictors of children's adjustment to the loss. Data are presented from 83 families with school-age children in which a parent had died of cancer in the preceding 18 months. The surviving parent and one randomly selected child completed individual interviews conducted by a clinician in the families' homes. Using multiple regression, potential predictors of children's psychosocial adjustment to parental death are examined and their relative importance is discussed. Among the predictors considered were child's age, child's gender, deceased parent's gender, time since death, length of illness, presence of siblings, and parental communication patterns. The child's perception of the surviving parent's level of openness in parental communication was found to be significantly correlated with lower levels of depressive symptoms and state anxiety in bereaved children. Boys reported lower levels of depressive symptoms than did girls, and older children reported lower levels of state anxiety than did younger children.

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