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.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health