A parent's death it is one of the most stressful and traumatic events in a child's life (Guldin et al., 2015; Worden, 1996, 2008). In particular, when bereavement is linked to a parent's suicide, children face unique challenges and are more vulnerable to potentially negative outcomes (Brent, Melhem, Donohoe, & Walker, 2009; Haine, Ayers, Sandler, & Wolchik, 2008; Pitman, Osborn, King, & Erlangsen, 2014; Young et al., 2012). Although many factors influence children's recovery following a parent's suicide, the surviving parent's emotional stability and emotional availability to support their children are of critical importance. Additionally, negative outcomes are often linked to unhealthy patterns of grief, such as avoidance and blame (Ratnarajah & Schofield, 2008), social isolation, closed communication (not talking about the suicide), and secrets kept within the family (Cerel, Jordan, & Duberstein, 2008). Furthermore, society's stigmatization of suicide impedes survivors' emotional healing (Mitchell et al., 2006). In recent years, researchers have consistently shown the success of bibliotherapy in helping increase children's and parents' understanding and communication about death. However, this efficacy has not been demonstrated specifically with grief related to suicide. No bibliotherapy-related research specifically addresses children's grief associated with a parent's suicide. Addressing this lack of research, a focus group study was conducted to obtain paraprofessional counselors' opinions about which type of story would be most effective in supporting this unique population of child survivors. We sought participants' (n=5) perceptions regarding which specific criteria should be considered when selecting child-appropriate reading materials (picture books) for bibliotherapy. We focused on the purpose of opening communication with young children (ages 4—8-years old) following their parent's suicide. The following summary and recommendations are based on participants' input. Following a parent's suicide, participants emphasized the critical need to individualize treatment to fit the unique needs of the child. Participants repeatedly stressed the need to know the child-the circumstances surrounding the suicide and the child's specific situation. They also recommended that counselors should strive to find books that fit the child's individual needs; books need to be forthright and honest in their portrayal of suicide; and stories need to show a way forward, provide hope, and assure the child that that they are not alone. Participants endorsed suicide-specific books, indicating that these books tended to be best for helping the child talk about the suicide and their grief. As a foundation for conversation with the child, participants noted the importance of children's books that helped identify and address specific emotions. Additionally, participants cautioned adults to avoid sharing stories that included ambiguous and unresolved issues, as children needed stories that offered closure and directly taught effective coping strategies. Future research is recommended to further explore the efficacy of children's picture books that were endorsed by this study's focus group. It is important to assess child survivors' and surviving parents' perceptions of these stories and the effectiveness of stories in opening communication about the deceased parent's suicide. Additionally, future research needs to investigate licensed counseling professionals' perceptions of children's picture books, specifically their perception of the story's capacity to open communication and provide adaptive grief support to child survivors. Additionally, longitudinal research should focus on the long term effectiveness of sharing carefully selected stories to facilitate healthy grieving patterns in child survivors.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Counseling Psychology and Special Education



Date Submitted


Document Type





parent suicide, child survivor, grief, bibliotherapy, communication, focus group



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