Books expose children to language and introduce issues that help children cope with trauma (Heath & Young, 2017). About 33% of children in the U.S. live with divorced parents (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021). The effects of parental divorce have been categorized in multiple ways. Wallerstein (1983) conceptualized 6 coping tasks for children while Kubler and Ross (2009) describe a 5-stage grief process.
PURPOSE: We sought to examine the language in children’s books about divorce to determine whether (1) the grief resolution process is accurately portrayed and (2) male vs. female characters experience realistically different grief stages in the divorce process.
METHOD: We acquired 15 books published after 2000 with 55 pages or less, which targeted children 2 to 12 years old, with the main character dealing with divorce. We created a rubric adapting Wallerstein's tasks and Kubler and Ross' 5 stages, and coded language. We tallied the frequency of stages and searched for themes across books. RESULTS: None of the books contained all 5 stages. 50% of the books contained 1 or 2 stages and the remainder contained 3 or 4 stages. 100% of females and 78% of males experienced depression. Male characters experienced anger/blame (67%) twice as much as females (33%).
DISCUSSION: Books do not accurately reflect all the stages of grief that children experience. Books do not portray denial. However, books are consistent regarding differences in male vs. female experiences with divorce. Speech-language pathologists can use books to develop language associated with grief, expand vocabulary, and help children identify feelings within the stages.
Martin, Tricia, "A Preliminary Descriptive Examination of Divorce and Grief Resolution Portrayed in Children’s Literature" (2022). 2022 Celebration of Scholarly Works. 2.
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