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Child Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Development Studies


Objectives: Self-compassion, which involves mindfulness, self-kindness, and common humanity, has been found to be related to individuals’ mental health. Few studies have examined caregivers’ self-compassion in relation to parenting behaviors and child adjustment in addition to its relation to their own mental health. In the current study we examined caregivers’ self-compassion as a protective factor related to parentally bereaved children’s internalizing and externalizing problems and further tested whether these relations were mediated by caregivers’ mental health (complicated grief and psychological distress) and parenting.

Methods: The sample consisted of 74 caregivers (female = 78.4%) who participated in a larger study designed for bereaved families. At T1 (baseline) and T2 (20 weeks later), caregivers completed measures on demographic information, self-compassion, complicated grief, parental warmth, and consistent discipline, as well as child internalizing and externalizing problems.

Results: Findings supported that caregivers’ self-compassion was prospectively related to decreased internalizing and externalizing problems in bereaved children. Mediation analyses showed that the effect of self-compassion on externalizing problems was mediated by parental warmth and by consistent discipline. In addition, caregivers’ self-compassion was prospectively associated with decreased complicated grief and psychological distress of the caregiver.

Conclusions: These findings add to the knowledge on the benefits of self-compassion for bereaved families and suggest that caregivers’ self-compassion intervention may be a leveraging point to protect both bereaved caregivers from complicated grief and distress but also to strengthen parenting which leads to bereaved children’s adjustment.


Author notes

Na Zhang: Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, University of Connecticut, Stamford, CT, USA.

Irwin Sandler, Jenn‑Yun Tein, and Sharlene Wolchik: REACH Institute, Department of Psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.

Erin Donohue: Department of Psychology, College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, St. Joseph, MN, USA.

Author contributions:

Na Zhang conceptualized the research questions, conducted the data analyses, and wrote the paper.

Irwin Sandler designed and executed the larger study, collaborated with the conceptualization of the research questions, and revised the drafts.

Jenn‑Yun Tein assisted the data analyses, revised the drafts.

Sharlene Wolchik revised the drafts.

Erin Donohue revised the drafts.

All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.