Current approaches to helping children cope with a parent's terminal illness

CA Cancer J Clin. 2006 Jul-Aug;56(4):197-212. doi: 10.3322/canjclin.56.4.197.


Much has been learned about childhood bereavement in the last few decades as studies have increasingly focused on the direct interviewing of children about their recovery from the tragic loss of a parent. It has been shown that children do indeed mourn, although differently from adults. Important moderating and mediating variables have been identified that impact their recovery from the loss of a parent, which can be the focus of intervention. When death is expected, the terminal phase of an illness has been found to be particularly stressful for children, yet seldom investigated. Similarly, few studies have explored the impact of development on children's experience and expression of grief. We present research findings that clarify phases in children's experience during the terminal illness, hospital visits, the death, and its immediate aftermath, as well as how the parent is mourned and issues in longer term reconstitution. Variations in children's responses in these phases are described as they were experienced by 87 children from 3 different developmental groupings: 3 to 5 years, 6 to 8 years, and 9 to 11 years. Recommendations are suggested for parents and professionals about ways to understand and support children during the terminal illness, at the time of death, and during the phase of reconstitution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Age Factors
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Bereavement*
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk Factors
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • Time Factors