Our research journey

For the past 30 years, our bereavement team at Arizona State University REACH Institute has been doing research on the sources of resilience of bereaved children and on ways to promote their resilience. We’ve published nearly 40 articles in scientific journals and books that describe our findings. Here, we share some of the most important findings.

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Sources of resilience for bereaved children

Although the death of a parent is one of the most stressful events that can happen in a child’s life, most children are resilient and go on to lead successful lives without serious mental health problems. However, some children do experience significant problems, and these problems can persist into adulthood. Our research has helped us understand the sources of resilience for bereaved children. One major resource is high-quality parenting. This includes high levels of warmth and acceptance, supportive listening, effective rules and stable positive routines. A second major resource is the child’s effective coping including their ability to effectively process their grief, share their feelings, problem solve, deal with stress, and maintain a sense of efficacy and self-worth.

Sandler, I. N., Wolchik, S. A., & Ayers, T. S. (2008). Resilience rather than recovery: A contextual framework on adaptation following bereavement. Death Studies, 32, 59-73.

Brown, A. C., Sandler, I. N., Tein, J. Y., Liu, X., & Haine, R. A. (2007). Implications of parental suicide and violent death for promotion of resilience of parentally-bereaved children. Death Studies, 31, 301–335.

Wolchik, S. A., Tein, J.-Y., Sandler, I. N., & Ayers, T. S. (2006). Stressors, quality of the child-caregiver relationship, and children's mental health problems after parental death: The mediating role of self-system beliefs. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 34(2), 221-238.

Schmiege, S. J., Khoo, S. T., Sandler, I. N., Ayers, T. S., & Wolchick, S. A. (2006). Symptoms of internalizing and externalizing problems: Modeling recovery curves after the death of a parent. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 31(6 Suppl 1), S152-160.

Haine, R. A., Wolchik, S. A., Sandler, I. N., Millsap, R. E., & Ayers, T. S. (2006). Positive parenting as a protective resource for parentally bereaved children. Death Studies, 30(1), 1-28.

Kwok, O.-M., Haine, R. A., Sandler, I. N., Ayers, T. S., Wolchik, S. A., & Tein, J.-Y. (2005). Positive Parenting as a Mediator of the Relations Between Parental Psychological Distress and Mental Health Problems of Parentally Bereaved Children. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(2), 260-271.

Lin, K. K., Sandler, I. N., Ayers, T. S., Wolchik, S. A., & Luecken, L. J. (2004). Resilience in parentally bereaved children and adolescents seeking preventive services. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 33(4), 673-683. doi: 10.1207/s15374424jccp3304_3

Ayers, T. S., Kennedy, C. L., Sandler, I. N., & Stokes, J. (2003). Bereavement, Adolescence. In M. Bloom & T. P. Gullotta (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Primary Prevention and Health Promotion (pp. 221-229). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

Sandler, I. N., Ayers, T. S., & Romer, A. L. (2002). Fostering resilience in families in which a parent has died. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 5(6), 945-956. doi: 10.1089/10966210260499195

Luecken, L. J. (2000). Attachment and loss experiences during childhood are associated with adult hostility, depression, and social support. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 49, 85–91. doi:10.1016/S0022-3999(00)00151-3

West, S. G., Sandler, I., Pillow, D. R., Baca, L., & Gersten, J. C. (1991). The use of structural equation modeling in generative research: Toward the design of a preventive intervention for bereaved children. Special Issue: Preventive Intervention Research Centers. American Journal of Community Psychology, 19(4), 459-480.

Development of programs to promote resilience of bereaved children and their parents/caregivers

The programs we’ve developed are designed to strengthen sources of resilience for bereaved children and of their parents/caregivers. In our Family Bereavement Program, we developed multiple activities to promote parent/caregiver and child sources of resilience that were supported by research. The articles below describe that process. More recently, we adapted this program so it could be readily and sustainably implemented by child bereavement agencies. This program, the Resilient Parenting for Bereaved Families Program, focuses on one of the most important resilience resources for bereaved children – high-quality parenting. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve developed three simple online Practical Tools that parents and service providers use to promote high quality parenting. To learn more about those click here.

Sandler, I. N., Wolchik, S. A., Ayers, T. S., Tein, J. Y., & Luecken, L. (2013). Family Bereavement Program (FBP) approach to promoting resilience following the death of a parent. Family Science, 4, 87-95.

Ayers, T. S., Wolchik, S. A., Sandler, I. N., Towhey, J. L., Lutzke Weyer, J. R., Jones, S., Weiss, L., Cole, E., & Kriege, G. (2013-2014). The Family Bereavement Program: Description of a theory-based prevention program for parentally-bereaved children and adolescent. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 66, 293-314.

Sandler, I., Kennedy, C., Balk, D., Jordan, J., Nadeau, J., & Shapiro, E. (2005). Bridging the Gap between Research and Practice in Bereavement: Report from the Center for the Advancement of Health. Death Studies, 29(2), 93-122.

Sandler, I. N., Wolchick, S. A., Ayers, T. S., Tein, J. Y., Coxe, S., & Chow, W. (2008). Linking theory and intervention to promote resilience in parentally bereaved children. In M. Stroebe & W. Stroebe (Eds.), Handbook of Bereavement Research and Practice: Advances in Theory and Intervention (pp. 531-551). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Haine, R. A., Ayers, T. S., Sandler, I. N., & Wolchik, S. A. (2008). Evidence-based practices for parentally bereaved children and their families. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(2), 113-121. doi: 10.1037/0735-7028.39.2.113

Effects of our Family Bereavement Program

The Family Bereavement Program has been evaluated using the gold standard of research, a randomized controlled trial. We have assessed its impact over 15 years following the program. At the 15-year follow-up, the offspring were young adults. This is the most extensively evaluated program for bereaved children. The results have shown remarkable benefits of the program for both children and their parents.


Benefits for children and adolescents

  • Decreased distressing grief
  • Decreased mental health problems
  • Greater coping efficacy
  • More adaptive expression of emotions
  • More positive relationships with parents
  • Reduced exposure to stressful events
  • Reduced use of mental health services

Benefits for parents

  • Reduced complicated grief
  • Less depression
  • Less alcohol use
  • Greater coping efficacy
  • More positive relationship with their children

Sandler, I., Tein, J. Y., Cham, H., Wolchik, S., & Ayers, T. (2016). Long-term effects of the Family Bereavement Program on spousally-bereaved parents: Grief, mental health, alcohol problems and coping efficacy. Development and Psychopathology, 28, 801-818. doi:10.1017/S0954579416000328

Sandler, I., Tein, J. Y., Wolchik, S. A., & Ayers, T. (2016). The effects of the Family Bereavement Program to reduce suicide ideation and/or attempts of parentally bereaved children six and fifteen years later. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 46, S32-S38. DOI: 10.1111/sltb.12256

Schoenfelder, E. N., Tein, J. Y., Wolchik, S. A., & Sandler, I. N. (2015). Effects of the Family Bereavement Program on academic outcomes, educational expectations and job aspirations 6 years later: The mediating role of parenting and youth mental health problems. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 43, 229-241. doi.org/10.1007/s10802-014-9905-6

Luecken, L. J., Hagan, M. J., Sandler, I. N., Tein, J.-Y., Ayers, T. S., & Wolchik, S. A. (2014). Longitudinal mediators of a randomized prevention program effect on cortisol for youth from parentally bereaved families. Prevention Science, 15(2), 224-232. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11121-013-0385-7

Schoenfelder, E. N., Sandler, I. N., Millsap, R. E., Wolchik, S. A., Berkel, C., & Ayers, T. S. (2013). Caregiver responsiveness to the family bereavement program: What predicts responsiveness? What does responsiveness predict? Prevention Science. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11121-012-0337-7

Luecken, L. J., Hagan, M. J., Sandler, I. N., Tein, J.-Y., Ayers, T. S., & Wolchik, S. A. (2013). Longitudinal mediators of a randomized prevention program effect on cortisol for youth from parentally bereaved families. Prevention Science. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11121-013-0385-7

Hagan, M. J., Tein, J.-Y., Sandler, I. N., Wolchik, S. A., Ayers, T. S., & Luecken, L. J. (2012). Strengthening effective parenting practices over the long term: Effects of a preventive intervention for parentally bereaved families. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 41(2), 177-188. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2012.651996

Ayers, T. S., Kondo, C. C., & Sandler, I. N. (2011). Bridging the gap: Translating a research-based program into an agency-based service for bereaved children and families Grief and bereavement in contemporary society: Bridging research and practice. (pp. 117-135): Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, New York, NY.

Sandler, I. N., Ma, Y., Tein, J.-Y., Ayers, T. S., Wolchik, S., Kennedy, C., & Millsap, R. (2010). Long-term effects of the family bereavement program on multiple indicators of grief in parentally bereaved children and adolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 131-143. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0018393

Sandler, I., Ayers, T. S., Tein, J.-Y., Wolchik, S., Millsap, R., Khoo, S. T., . . . Coxe, S. (2010). Six-year follow-up of a preventive intervention for parentally bereaved youths: a randomized controlled trial. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 164(10), 907-914. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1001/archpediatrics.2010.173

Luecken, L. J., Hagan, M. J., Sandler, I. N., Tein, J.-Y., Ayers, T. S., & Wolchik, S. A. (2010). Cortisol levels six-years after participation in the Family Bereavement Program. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35(5), 785-789. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2009.11.002

Foster, E., Porter, M. M., Ayers, T. S., Kaplan, D. L., & Sandler, I. (2007). Estimating the Costs of Preventive Interventions. Evaluation Review, 31(3), 261-286. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0193841X07299247

Tein, J.-Y., Sandler, I. N., Ayers, T. S., & Wolchik, S. A. (2006). Mediation of the effects of the Family Bereavement Program on mental health problems of bereaved children and adolescents. Prevention Science, 7(2), 179-195.

Sandler, I. N., Ayers, T. S., Wolchik, S. A., Tein, J. Y., Kwok, O. M., Haine, R. A., . . . Griffin, W. A. (2003). The Family Bereavement Program: Efficacy evaluation of a theory-based prevention program for parentally bereaved children andadolescents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71(3), 587-600.

Measures we have developed and used in evaluating our programs

Coming Soon.

We have developed a number of measures that we used in our research that we will be making available to the public at no cost. These include measures of children’s grief, coping, inhibition of expression of emotion, stressful events experienced by bereaved children and quality of parenting. For inquiries about these measures for use in your own program evaluation or research research please contact us at RPBF@asu.edu. These measures are in the public domain, so please feel free to use them in your work.