Over the past thirty years, Dr. Irwin Sandler and Dr. Sharlene Wolchik, professors of psychology at Arizona State University, have conducted research on sources of resilience for children who have lost a mother or father. Parental loss is incredibly difficult and stressful, and some children experience long-term problems, such as depression or prolonged grief, after the death. But most children who lose a parent go on to lead healthy, successful lives. Psychologist Ann Masten refers to this resilience as “ordinary magic.”
Sandler and Wolchik’s research uncovered resilient parenting strategies that can be used to promote children’s healthy development after such profound loss. Interventions that foster resilient parenting—like their Family Bereavement Program—can significantly improve outcomes for both bereaved children and a surviving parent. The program resulted in:
- more positive relationships between a child and their surviving parent,
- less long-term distressing grief for both child and parent,
- fewer mental health problems for both child and parent, and
- fewer unhealthy physical responses to stress by the child.
If you’re caring for a child who has lost a mother or father, you can practice resilient parenting by focusing on the five building blocks below.