Caregivers' positive emotional expression and children's psychological functioning after parental loss.

Publication Date



Journal of Child and Family Studies






PMC5695886 [Available on 2018-12-01]

PubMedCentral® Posted Date


Published Open-Access



bereavement, caregiver, children, language, positive emotion


The death of a loved one, particularly a parent, has been identified as not only the most common, but also the most distressing form of adversity youth may experience in their lifetime. Surviving caregivers' communication with their children may play a critical role in shaping bereaved children's psychological functioning. However, few studies have examined the specific content (e.g., word usage) of caregivers' verbal communication as a predictor of psychological functioning in bereaved youth. In a sample of 39 parentally-bereaved children and their surviving caregivers, we investigated whether the frequency of caregivers' use of positive emotion words (e.g., "love", "happy", "hope") during a reminiscing task about the deceased was associated with children's psychological functioning and coping. In a cross-sectional analysis, we specifically examined whether these associations were moderated by the amount of time passed since children lost their parents. The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count Program (LIWC) was used to code and evaluate the percentage of positive emotion words caregivers used during the discussion. When caregivers used more positive emotion words, children were less likely to experience depression, anxiety, and avoidant coping. Those associations were present for children who had experienced parental loss at least 105 days prior to the study. Our findings have implications for how caregivers can support their children and help to alleviate psychological distress in the aftermath of parental loss.