Skip to main content

Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Help Kids Cope with COVID-19 Grief

By Charlene Khaghan

There is nothing in a child’s life to prepare them for profound loss. While children pass through the same stages of grief as adults, due to their limited life experiences, children will grieve differently. It is important to remember that every person and child grieves in his or her own unique way and at his or her own pace.

Children experience grief in many different circumstances. Even while the COVID-19 shutdowns are saving a lot of lives, they result in other losses, especially for kids: loss of social time with friends; loss of hugging and spending time with grandparents and other family members; loss of physically attending school, extracurricular activities, and graduation ceremonies. Many families are in a state of limbo, without access to the work and relationships that bring a sense of financial and emotional safety and security. This triggers grief, too.

Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described grief as having five specific stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While this is a useful framework for describing the components of grief, people do not move through these stages in a linear fashion. Recent research supports a more dynamic experience, with movement in and out of these states over time.

Denial This is the first stage of grief. Children want to continue to believe that everything is okay and that nothing bad has actually happened. If they were to take in all the emotion related to the loss right away, it would be too overwhelming so they may deny the loss thus giving their body and mind a little time to adjust to the way things are now.

Anger During this stage, a child may blame others for their difficulties. This particular stage can last for days, weeks, months, and years. Kids may be angry, irritable, frustrated, anxious, and difficult to get along with. It is best for your child and others involved with your child to encourage expression of, and discussion about, their angry feelings.

Bargaining A child may start to exhibit behaviors that seem very positive, including appearing to be very mature. Schoolwork may improve dramatically. The child may believe that doing everything “just right” will fix the situation. Bargaining is often accompanied by guilt. This is basically our way of negotiating with the hurt and pain of the loss.

Depression This phase may be delayed but often occurs when reality really sinks in. During this stage of grief, intense sadness, decreased sleep, reduced appetite, and loss of motivation are common.

Acceptance Finally, children often enter this stage once they have processed their initial grief emotions, are able to accept that the loss has occurred, and are once again able to plan for their futures and re-engage in daily life.

It is important to recognize that children, like adults, may move between the different stages at different rates and can jump around between each phase. Recovery is more of a process than an event.

Listen to children, offer them love and reassurance, encourage them to ask questions, and, if needed, find professional help for them. 

A mother of five children, Charlene Khaghan has an LMSW and a master’s degree in special education. She taught high school special education for many years and currently works as a therapist in a university counseling center. She is the author of the children’s book, A Tiny Step Forward: A Book on Loss and Love, available on Amazon: