Adolescent Grief and Loss- Helping Your Teens Cope
Grief expert, Elizabeth Postle, (RN, HV, FWT), explains how to help your adolescent cope with grief and loss. It might be the loss of a parent or sibling, a grandparent or a friend at school. It might be a pet. Whatever the loss, teenage grief is tough, as they are coping with so many changes in their life during those years.
Teens and grief are a tricky combination. They may already have challenges keeping up with peer groups, school pressures, coming to terms with their sexuality, swinging back and forth from adult to child. The clashes with parents over late nights and homework not done can become mountains instead of molehills. Career prospects, and wondering what is in store for them in life. The list is endless. Mood swings due to hormonal changes are inevitable too.
The loss of a parent, sibling or friend at this difficult time can be overwhelming for teens, as they now have to face up to their own mortality and the grief is a huge burden.
Losing a sister, brother or parent is a huge loss as they are the people they know best. They may have known the teenager all their life and shared the good as well as the bad times. It can seem as if a major part of their life is missing.
Why might teens lose friends when they are grieving?
Teenagers may find that friends are avoiding them when they are grieving and don’t realize that it is because they are embarrassed. Friends don’t know what to say and are scared of upsetting them.
Teens are faced with everyone around them getting on with life as if nothing has happened.
When faced with the massive loss of someone close to them dying, it can seem as if the world is against your teenage child.
Explain to them that a lot of their friends at school who seem to be happy and laughing as usual may have their own family problems too, but most try to put on a brave face, many may be trying to cheer them up.
Let the staff at college or school know what has happened, they may have counsellors available for your teen to talk to.
How to help your adolescents with grief and loss
- Other family members may also be grieving at this time but it is essential that you all comfort each other and talk about the person you have lost.
- Everyone should have their own special support person to talk to when things get difficult. This could be a teacher or favourite aunt or best friend.
- Involve the teens in all aspects of the funeral, choosing flowers etc, as trying to protect them may make them feel excluded. Encourage them to say a poem or play some music if they are able. Expressing themselves, in whatever way they can is helpful. This page explains why expressing grief is important.
- If it is a family member you have lost, have lots of photos in their room, talk about happy holidays you shared with the family. Don’t be afraid to bring up the loved one's name in conversations. Yes, at times there will be tears but this is good.
- Crying is part of the grieving process.
- Accept any invitations from friends as usual even if they don’t feel like going your teen may surprise you and enjoy themselves. Encourage them to visit their friends as they used to.
- Organise outings for the family as often as you can and give your teen some special treats.
- Monitor your teen's behaviour. Are they staying alone in their rooms too much or getting depressed?
- Invite their friends over for supper or sleepovers. Take them to soccer or a movie. If you are also grieving you can help your own grief by helping your family too.
- Plan a family holiday. Something to put the mind in a positive place even if it is camping or fishing - something you would all enjoy. Let them bring a friend if possible. It gives everyone something to look forward to.
- If a school trip had been planned encourage them to go on it. Keeping busy is good therapy.
- Eating well, taking exercise and getting enough sleep is important for everyone at this difficult time.
- Continuing with hobbies and keeping on top of school work can also help. It is easy for teenagers to become worried if they fall behind with work.
Support by talking and sharing is far better than confrontation for everyone. Often teens will respond well to being asked to get on with their life. They will make an effort to do well for the loved one, as they would have wanted them to do.
Recommend that your teens read my pages on grief written specially for the teens themselves - Teen Grief
Every family situation is different and special to you. Each loss is an individual tragedy whether it is a friend or family member. The loved one can never be forgotten, we just learn to cope by taking each day at a time and getting through it as best we can. Supporting other family members as we go helps us too.
Yes, it does get easier and one day your teenagers will start to remember the lost one with pleasure not sadness.
If your adolescent is still having trouble coming to terms with their grief and loss, they might find this online forum a help:
Teenage Grief Forum
Books on Grief for Teenagers
My Mom Died - Questions Teenagers Have About Grief
ARE YOU A BEREAVED MOTHER OR FATHER?
We are two bereaved parents who have teamed up with researchers at Yeshiva University and Memorial Sloan Kettering to study how the death of a child impacts parents’ lives, and the resulting ripple effects as life continues without our children. We invite you to participate in a survey which will help us develop resources to better support parents experiencing the heartbreak of child loss.
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For more details, you can contact the Principal Investigator:
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Thank you for your consideration --
Judith Kottick, LCSW and Jean Singer, PhD
IRB Approved at the Study Level, May 10, 2021. #30499052.0
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