Objective: To build an account of how bereaved Tamil refugee and asylum seeker children, resettled in Australia, had processed the loss of their dead or missing fathers.
Method: Phenomenological and discourse analysis was applied to attachment narratives of nine children (aged 11–17 years) and their surviving mothers in families that lost fathers in war-related circumstances. The narratives were analysed through the lens of Crittenden’s Dynamic-Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM) and Klass’ cross-cultural model of grief.
Results: Two divergent pathways — ‘burying the past’ and ‘reifying the past’ — emerged, encompassing the children’s contrasting patterns of information processing regarding loss and trauma (dismissing or preoccupying) and representation of the past (distant-buried or rich-reconstructed). Each pathway reflected a strategic compromise between the constraints and resources presented to the child by the circumstances of the loss (ambiguous or confirmed), the response of their surviving parent (stricken or stoic) and the collective narrative surrounding the loss (silenced or valorised).
Conclusion: The DMM’s conceptualisation of attachment as self-protective strategies for navigating danger was helpful in explaining the contrasting adaptations of refugee children to loss and trauma. However, to understand the multivalent meanings of these adaptations, there was a need to situate child–parent attachment relationships within the wider sociocultural reconfigurations arising from contexts of political violence.