Out of the Mouths of Babes: Links Between Linguistic Structure of Loss Narratives and Psychosocial Functioning in Parentally Bereaved Children

Julie B. Kaplow, Britney M. Wardecker, Christopher M. Layne, Ethan Kross, Amanda Burnside, Robin S. Edelstein, Alan R. Prossin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

This study examined links between the language bereaved children use to describe the death of their caregiver and children's psychological/behavioral functioning and coping strategies. Participants included 44 children (54.5% male) aged 7 to 12 (M = 9.05) years who were bereaved by the death of a caregiver. Children were assessed via self- and caregiver-report measures and an in-person interview regarding the loss of their caregiver. Children's loss narratives gathered through in-person interviews were transcribed and subjected to textual analysis. Linguistic categories included pronouns and verb tense. Drawing from linguistic and self-distancing theories, we hypothesized that children's use of language reflecting self-distancing (third-person pronouns and past tense) or social connectedness (first-person plural pronouns) would be negatively associated with psychological/behavioral distress and avoidant coping. Similarly, we expected that children's use of self-focused language (first-person singular pronouns and present tense) would be positively associated with psychological/behavioral distress and avoidant coping. As hypothesized, preliminary findings suggest that children who employed more self-distancing language and used more social connectedness words reported less avoidant coping, rs =.40–.42. Also as hypothesized, children who employed more self-focused language had higher levels of self-reported posttraumatic stress symptoms, r =.54, and avoidant coping, r =.54, and higher parent-reported psychological/behavioral distress, r =.43. Implications for theory-building, risk screening, and directions for future research with bereaved youth are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)342-351
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of traumatic stress
Volume31
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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