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Stages of Grief in Children

Helping Children Cope With the Stages of Grief

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Whether your children are grieving over the loss of a parent, or the impact 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 the news of an 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.

    What You Can Do:
    • Be patient

    • Listen

    • Give your child space to think through the loss

    • Make yourself available to your child when he or she 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.

    What You Can Do:
    • Allow your child to express his or her feelings

    • Realize that your child's feelings may change drastically from day to day

    • Remain calm

  3. 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.

    What You Can Do:
    • Make sure that your child is getting adequate nutrition and rest

    • Continue to be available to your child

    • Provide opportunities to spend time outside together

  4. 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.

    What You Can Do:
    • Realize that your child may fluctuate back into previously experienced stages of grief

    • Remain alert to any changes in your child's behavior or mental state

    • Encourage 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"].
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