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One 10-year-old girl told the others about a day when she was 5 years old and got mad at her father.He came into her bedroom to kiss her good night, and she pretended she was asleep because she didn’t want to talk to him. “She’d been carrying this story with her for five years,” says Mr. “It’s so powerful to see the raw emotions these kids share.” Some activists say it’s vital to start helping young people even before their parents die.“I’d give up a year of my life for just half a day with my parents,” says Jonathan Herman, a 33-year-old health-care executive in New York.

Some chafed at more-formal approaches; 33% said talking to therapists or school guidance counselors were the “least helpful” activities.

The early loss of a parent can make some people more resilient, responsible and independent, the research shows. Kids who get through by being stoic and behaving like adults often “pay a fierce price—namely their childhoods,” says Ms. They focus on trying to keep their surviving parent happy or on stepping up to handle the responsibilities of their deceased parent.

At the same time, the mental-health issues of grieving kids need to be better monitored by primary-care physicians in the days, months and years after their parents die, Dr. When surveyed about how they processed their grief, adults whose parents died when they were young speak of touchstones.

They were helped by looking at old videos with surviving family members, by listening to favorite music and by writing memories of their parents in journals.

Herman’s yearnings, saying they, too, would trade a year of their lives.

Their responses, part of a wide-ranging new survey, indicate that bereavement rooted in childhood often leaves emotional scars for decades, and that our society doesn’t fully understand the ramifications—or offer appropriate resources.

Christopher Blunt, an executive at New York Life and a camp volunteer, was 22 when his mom passed away.

He tells of leading a “healing circle” discussion with eight campers, as they shared how their parents died—to suicide, a drug overdose, cancer.

Support groups, which grieving adults often find helpful, seem less beneficial to bereaved children, says Holly Wilcox, a psychiatric epidemiologist who led the Hopkins study.

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