In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Bereavement

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Children’s Accounts of Their Experiences
  • Adults’ Retrospective Accounts of Bereavement
  • Theorizing Child Bereavement
  • Factors Affecting Children and Young People’s Outcomes
  • The Outcomes of Bereavement
  • General Samples of Young People
  • Samples of Bereaved Children and Young People
  • “Normal” Versus “Abnormal” Grief
  • Supporting Bereaved Children and Young People
  • Support before a Death
  • Support in School
  • Specialist Support Organizations
  • Evaluations of the Effectiveness of Interventions
  • Children and Young People’s Accounts of Taking Part in Services
  • Ethics of Research with Bereaved Children

Childhood Studies Bereavement
Alison Penny
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 May 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0126


Bereavement is the state of being left behind when someone dies. There is a tension in the literature between positivist approaches that try to discern universal norms—and deviations from these norms—for the process of bereavement, and constructivist approaches that maintain that understandings of bereavement vary across time and space. The field of literature on bereavement in children and young people is shaped by this tension, coupled with a parallel debate about the concept of childhood. The psychological literature undoubtedly dominates, and is largely rooted in research in Western countries, on the death of someone close, mainly a parent or sibling. The literature on bereaved children in developed countries has developed with little reference to the literature on bereaved children in developing countries, which are likely to have very different patterns of mortality, as well as different traditions of mourning and attitudes to childhood. Some of the variation in ways in which bereaved children’s experiences are constructed is covered in another article in this series: Orphans. Within the Western psychological literature on bereavement, studies have developed from simple models that looked at the death as a single variable, to more complex approaches acknowledging the range of factors that might influence how a child or young person responds to that death. This article explores the largely Western literature on contemporary bereavement in childhood, looking at children, young people, and adults’ accounts of their experiences, before turning to theoretical approaches, and then outlining the literature on the outcomes of bereavement in this context. The article then looks at published works on the needs of children in these circumstances, guidelines for support in different contexts, and introduces debates on how to measure the effectiveness of this support. Finally, it looks at the literature on research with bereaved children and young people.


There are several anthologies or edited books of chapters on children’s experiences of bereavement, often incorporating suggested interventions. Doka 2000 is an early example; Balk and Corr 2009 and Corr and Balk 2010 are useful handbooks on adolescents and children, respectively, and their encounters with death and bereavement. Both present essays from a number of contributors, looking at new research that has emerged during the early 21st century and how this can be incorporated into practice with children. From a UK perspective, Monroe and Kraus 2010 is aimed at a similar audience of practitioners and researchers. Other, more general anthologies on grief (among people at all life stages) include specific chapters on children and young people. Stroebe, et al. 2008 is the most recent handbook in a series of three, with chapters summarizing recent scientific research into the nature of grief and its treatment. Particularly relevant chapters are those on the physiological manifestations of grief in children (a relatively neglected area) and on a description of the Family Bereavement Program at Arizona State University. Neimeyer, et al. 2011 is structured in a similar way and includes chapters from key writers in the field, but with a stronger emphasis on practice. Balk 2007 introduces a series of articles in a special edition of Death Studies, exploring the usefulness or otherwise of the concept of “recovery” in theorizing bereavement in adults and children. Contributors to Hockey, et al. 2001 draw on social theory and anthropological approaches to provide an important introduction to these debates in the literature, in relation to both child and adult grief.

  • Balk, David E. “Special Issue on Bereavement, Outcomes and Recovery: Guest Editor’s opening remarks.” Death Studies 32.1 (2007): 1–5.

    DOI: 10.1080/07481180701741202

    Introduces special edition of this journal, which includes a very interesting selection of articles exploring the concept of “recovery” in bereavement, and why this term provokes controversy among theorists.

  • Balk, David E., and Charles A. Corr. Adolescent Encounters with Death, Bereavement, and Coping. New York: Springer, 2009.

    Introductory chapters outline conceptual models for understanding adolescent grief and discuss the ethical issues of research in this area. Essays on particular forms of death and bereavement. Tackles recent manifestations of grief and research direction, including using technology to support grief, and bereavement following deaths of celebrities.

  • Corr, Charles A., and David E. Balk. Children’s Encounters with Death, Bereavement, and Coping. New York: Springer, 2010.

    Aimed at care providers and parents; includes introductory chapters siting child bereavement alongside child development and ethical considerations for interventions and research. Considers different types of bereavement and outlines models of interventions.

  • Doka, Kenneth J. Living with Grief: Children, Adolescents, and Loss. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 2000.

    Chapters from expert practitioners on clinical approaches interspersed with essays from bereaved children and young people. A useful opportunity to hear from children themselves.

  • Hockey, Jenny, Jeanne Katz, and Neil Small, eds. Grief, Mourning and Death Ritual. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press, 2001.

    Essays from anthropological and sociological perspectives on understandings of grief, bereavement, support, and care. Useful introduction to debates often ignored in the psychological literature.

  • Monroe, Barbara, and Frances Kraus, eds. Brief Interventions with Bereaved Children. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    This UK anthology includes chapters describing interventions for children and families bereaved in different ways, with a particular focus on short-term services that scaffold families’ own resilience, rather than pathologizing the grief process.

  • Neimeyer, Robert A., Darcy L. Harris, Howard R. Winokuer, and Gordon F. Thornton, eds. Grief and Bereavement in Contemporary Society: Bridging Research and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2011.

    Each chapter is a collaboration between researchers and practitioners. Focuses on adults’ as well as children’s grief; includes relevant chapters on the death of a sibling, grief after terrorism, and the challenges of translating an intervention from a research program into a clinical setting.

  • Stroebe, Margaret, Robert Hansson, Henk Schut, and Wolfgang Stroebe, eds. Handbook of Bereavement Research. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2008.

    Important collection of essays on recent research into the nature and context of grief and on the efficacy of interventions. Sets out areas of controversy and debate, including the nature of complicated grief.

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