Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

4.9 - Stages of Grief

4.9 - Stages of Grief

Children experience the loss and grief that often comes with separation in much the same way as adults. Children often experience confusion, sadness and guilt. Some of the stages of loss and grief you may see your children experiencing are:

Stage 1 – Denial and Isolation My parents will get back together again.
Stage 2 – Anger How can you do this to me? You let me down. If you really loved me, you would stay together.
Stage 3 – Bargaining  If I am really good, maybe you will get back together again.
Stage 4 – Depression  I feel empty inside and nothing can make it go away.
Stage 5 – Acceptance My parents are not going to get back together. It’s okay that my friends know my parents aren’t together anymore.

These stages may not be processed in this same order or all at the same time.

How children respond to separation is also age related:

  • Pre-schoolers focus on security;
  • Elementary school children may show depression and/or anger;
  • Junior high school students ask why and what is going on; and
  • High school students often question the validity of relationships and commitment.

Research shows that children adjust better if parents stop the fighting.   Where conflict remains, children should be kept out of it. In addition to not witnessing the conflict the children should neither be encouraged nor volunteer to participate in the conflict.  Children often feel responsible and may try to sort out the adult problems when their parents are struggling and in conflict.