The Issue: topic-child-grief-bereavement.jpg

One reality that many children throughout the world have the potential of facing is the death of a parent or guardian. With global conflict on the rise and the recent rash of natural disasters more children face this reality than ever. In 1991 the statistic was that 1.2 million children would lose a parent to death before age 15 (Dr. Elizabeth Weller, Dir. Ohio State University Hospitals, 1991) and the potential for parental death has only grown.Mortality rates for adults in their 40s and 50s in the past two decades have risen dramatically making it more likely that younger children will experience the death of a parent, or a classmate's parent. "Kids are encountering death more often and at a younger age - it's just inevitable" says Gerald Koocher, chief of psychology at Boston's Children's Hospital. (Wall Street Journal, Early Grief Article, February 18, 1999)

Problems Posed:

This issue can cause trouble academically and make the student more susceptible to negative outside influences as their support system, the family, is in transition. Along with the loss of their parent(s) many have to contend with the loss of money and, by consequence of that, loss of food, adequate housing and all else that money was to buy. In many countries, including our own, these children, assuming that they are of age, may have to acquire a job to help support this new family structure. If both parents are lost these children are typically left to unprepared family members still reeling with grief of their own, or worse yet into a foster system in which they know no one.

Children and Grief:

The normal stages of grief vary slightly when it comes to children. The transitional The Five Stages of Grief denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are supplemented by these 4 tasks as listed by Worden.
Worden distinguished among four tasks of mourning for these children: (1) accepting the reality of loss, (2) experiencing the pain or emotional aspects of loss, (3) adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and (4) relocating the person within one's life and finding ways to memorialize the person (Worden, 1996, pp. 13-15). Christian (1997),


At about age eight or nine children develop a sense and understand of the existence of death and that all people, including themselves, will eventually face it. Children at this age level are typically becoming independent and death may make them to feel vulnerable causing delays in social development. They may try and bury their emotions and to present what they feel is an adult face to the world while trying to take over the role of the newly deceased parent. This should be discouraged and these children informed softly that they need this time to grieve ant that it is necessary at times to express negative emotions like this. They may also associate odd things with the passing parent and may be easy to set off into anger or sadness.


Teenagers may also try to take over the role of the lost parent. They also have a propensity for seeking help from outside the home. The teens may confide in teachers, coaches and other adult leaders. They may need others to tell them that it is ok to cry and express emotion.

Things to be aware of:

Students who have recently been affected by loss may act out, withdraw or become antisocial.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (1998) cautions parents and teachers that, although most children grieve less over time, counseling might be considered if children exhibit several of these behaviors over an extended period:

After the death of a parent student may be required to fill in for the deceased. The surviving parent may not be emotionally strong to keep the family going. The child/student may be tasked with caring for younger siblings, purchasing and preparing food, helping the surviving parent through the grief process and the day to day maintenance of a house and home. They may face isolation at school due to classmates not knowing what to say about the situation and may be set of into a world of sadness by the most innocuous items that they associate with the parent or their death.

Trend, Issue, or Both?

Parental and caretaker death is a trending issue. It is an issue in the fact that it will always be present in society and it is trending due to the number of wars, conflicts and natural disasters that have occurred around the world in the last 13 years (age 5 onward). It may be further pronounced in areas where military bases exist like here in Columbus.


Situations like the war in Iraq/Afghanistan, the conflicts in Syria and natural disasters like Katrina, the Haiti earthquake, tsunami in Japan and the South Asian tsunami of 2004 have all played a part in creating single parent or no parent homes due to death or displacement. During conflicts death can be even more overwhelming due to the intensity of the situation that surrounds the now grieving family. Those who have lost parents during conflicts and natural disasters may receive less emotional help than what would be necessary. More immediate needs like safe shelter, food and sanitary living conditions may take precedence over the long term emotional needs of these children. Counselors are few and far between in conflicts or if present are stretched thin among the grieving masses.


This issue has always existed and to some degrees it has decreased this situation to a rare occurrence. Up until very recently, the past 100 years or so, life expectancy in 1900 was 46 for men and 48 for women and parental death was more pronounced. At this point in time people are indeed living longer and by 2008 life expectancy was at 75 for men and 81 for women. Due to this, many adults assisting children with this of grieving process have not been required to deal with it themselves.


Parent Links:

Death of a Parent
Kids Health
Children and Grief
After a Loved One Dies— How Children Grieve and how parents and other adults can support them
When a Parent Dies A guide for patients and their families
The Death of a Parent: Healing Children’s Grief

Educator Links:

Ask Dr. Lynch: Dealing with a Parent’s Death
Children and Grief
After a Loved One Dies— How Children Grieve and how parents and other adults can support them
Helping Students Deal with the Loss of a Parent
Culturally Sensitive Approaches to Support Grief in the Classroom

Support Group Links:

Rainbow International - Rainbows is an international, not-for-profit organization that fosters emotional healing among children grieving a loss from a life-altering crisis.
Operation Homefront - "We assist military families during difficult financial times by providing food assistance in the form of food boxes and gift certificates to grocery stores."

Scholarships and Opportunities for students who have experienced loss:

Life Lessons Scholarship Program Life Lessons - Scholarship
Scholarships for a Kid with a Deceased Parent Love to Know College - Article and list of Scholarships
Scholarships That Help Students Who Have Lost a Parent US News - Article and list of Scholarships
Scholarships for Kids with Deceased Parents Student Loan Blog - Article and list of Scholarships
Camp Kesem Summer Camp Website - Camp Kesem is a college student run summer camp for kids with a parent who has (or has had) cancer.
Manitou Experience Summer Camp Website - A free one-week overnight summer camp for boys who have experienced a significant death-loss

Annotated Bibliography:

Quackenbush, Marcia and Schonfeld, David - After a Loved One Dies— How Children Grieve And How Parents and Other Adults Can Support Them

This is a pdf designed to assist parents with understanding and helping their children through the grief process. I believe they sum it up best when they state that "This guide reviews how children grieve and how parents and other caring adults can help them understand death better. It offers suggestions for helping children cope. These suggestions are not meant to rush children through their grief or turn them into adults before their time. Rather, they will give them an understanding they can use now, as children, to grieve in a healthy and meaningful way."

Cancer Society of New Zealand - When a Parent Dies A Guide for Patients and Their Families

Hospice is defined a "a special kind of healthcare focused on keeping the patient comfortable once the patient and physician have decided that the underlying disease can no longer be treated or cured. Hospice helps the patient, their families, and other caregivers and hospice care can occur in a variety of settings. It neither hastens nor postpones death and is focused on the belief that quality of life is as important as length of life. Hospice staff members help manage pain and symptoms and provide emotional and spiritual support so patients can make the most of each day." This article is derived from a New Zealand Hospice group. It speaks of the different manners in which grief can manifest based on age.

Kids Health - Helping Your Child Deal With Death

This is geared strictly towards parents and it may be a helpful resource to direct a parent to.

Patterson, Beth - The Death of a Parent: Healing Children’s Grief

This article is also directed at parents. It focuses on the stages of grief concerning children. It would also be a good resource to direct a parent to. It is more in depth and not a personal as the previous reference.

McEntire, Nancy - Children and Grief

This is article focuses on children's comprehension, reaction and manner in which they deal with death. It also has a section for what teachers can do to help "ease a bereaved child's return to school" It also includes a list of warning signs that the child is not coping well with the situation.

DeWitt,Peter - Helping Students Deal with the Loss of a Parent

This blog is a useful resource for teachers. It speaks of balancing sympathy and empathy, including literature to help the student through this hard time and a list of helpful tips to help children deal with grief.

Proposal Addressing this Issue: