Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 26
  • Print publication year: 1993
  • Online publication date: May 2010

20 - Children's reactions to the death of a parent


There is general agreement that the death of a parent for school-age children is a very stressful experience (Antonovsky, 1979; Garmezy, 1987). Some researchers have shown that such a loss can lead to depression or other behavior problems in children and also later on as adults (Furman, 1974; Birtchnell, 1980; Bowlby, 1980; Brown, Harris, & Bifulco, 1986). In contrast, other studies have not been able to point to any consistent findings supporting the hypothesis that the death of a parent in childhood leads to an increase in problem behaviors or to an increased risk of subsequently developing psychological problems (Van Eerdewegh, Bieri, Parilla, & Clayton, 1982; Osterweis, Solomon, & Green, 1984). Berlinsky and Biller (1982), in an extensive review of the research literature, observed that this lack of consistent findings may be due to an oversimplification of outcome measures, such as the presence or absence of psychiatric symptoms or other problem behaviors. Also contributing to the confusion is the use of a singleevent model, which obscures the complexity of the situation.

The death of a parent cannot be viewed as a single stressful event but as a series of events that occur before and after the death (Berlinsky & Biller, 1982; Norris & Murrell, 1987). Brown et al. (1986), in their study of depressed women who, as children, lost their mother, and Elizur and Kaffman (1983), who studied Israeli children who lost fathers in war, suggest that factors other than the loss need to be in place before a bereaved child can be considered at risk.