4 Stages of Grief in Children

How to Help Your Children Cope With the Stages of Grief

Sad young girl.
Be proactive about help your chid cope with grief. Photo © Westend61/Getty Images

Whether your children are grieving over the loss of a grandparent or the effects of divorce on your immediate family, you are likely to be grieving right alongside them. That alone makes helping your children cope with the stages of grief more complicated. Bereavement researchers, John Bowlby and Colin Murray Parkes, have divided grief into four distinct phases, or stages of grief, that individuals experience.

Knowing what to anticipate as your children move through the stages of grief, will help you to help them cope with this dynamic process.

The Four Stages of Grief in Children Include:

  1. Shock and Numbness
    Whether your child is coping with a loss due to death, or because you've just recently announced your impending divorce or separation, he or she is likely to be stunned at first. On the surface, it may appear that your child is functioning fairly well. However, beneath the surface, he or she is just beginning to cope with the loss. For this reason, your child's ability to think clearly and concentrate may be impaired during this stage in the grieving process. You can help by:
    • Being patient
    • Listening
    • Giving your child space to think through the loss
    • Making yourself available when your child is ready to talk
  2. Yearning and Searching
    During this stage, your child may appear restless, angry, or bewildered; or express feelings of guilt over the loss. These intense and unresolved feelings may result in the child acting out toward others, or completely withdrawing from his or her social and family connections. You can help by:
    • Allowing your child to express his or her feelings
    • Realizing that your child's feelings may change drastically from day to day
    • Remaining calm
  1. Disorientation and Disorganization
    During this stage, your child may experience extreme sadness or depression over the loss. He or she may also continue to experience feelings of guilt or anger while the reality of loss continues to "sink in." This may manifest itself in your child's loss of appetite, sleeplessness, and lack of enthusiasm for things he/she used to enjoy. You can help by:
    • Making sure your child gets adequate nutrition and rest
    • Continuing to be available to your child
    • Providing opportunities to spend time outside together
  1. Reorganization and Resolution
    During this stage, your child begins to accept the loss and assimilate it into his or her life. In addition to noticing that your child seems less sad, you may also notice that he or she has more energy and is able to think more clearly again. You can help by:
    • Realizing that your child may fluctuate back into previously experienced stages of grief
    • Remaining alert to any changes in your child's behavior or mental state
    • Encouraging your child to share his or her feelings as needed

References:
"The Grief Process." www.usd.edu. The University of South Dakota. 10 Mar. 2008 [a href="http://www.usd.edu/med/som/genetics/curriculum/4DGRIEF4.htm"].