How can I help my teen cope with grief?
The death of a loved one can be a very stressful event for you and your teen. You may think, “How can I help him understand and cope when I am having trouble myself?” When someone close to you dies, whether it was expected or especially if it was unexpected, it can be difficult to determine how your teen will react.
An adolescent’s grief can be impacted by any number of things including but not limited to, their unique relationship with the individual, how the individual died, their support system, past experiences with death, and their own unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with stress, adversity, and high emotion.
- Teens typically have a full understanding of death.
- If the person who dies is close in age to your teenager, he may be faced with the reality that not everyone lives until they are very old.
- Your teen may begin to take on more responsibilities, feeling the need to be strong and care for others.
- He may show a wide range of feelings and emotions or no emotion at all.
- He may act indifferent to death to protect himself.
- Many teenagers begin to question their religion or spiritual beliefs.
How Some Teens React to Loss
Every teen responds to death in his own way. These are some of the most common reactions for teenagers:
- Anger, rage
- Withdrawal, isolation
- Regression (acting younger than his age)
- Drop in grades, underachieving
- Risk taking
- Assuming more responsibilities and adult roles
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Critical toward decisions made by friends
- Feeling different than peers and family of the person who has died
- Increase in conflict with friends and family
Ways to Help Your Teen Cope with Grief
Be there. Acknowledge their presence, their importance, their opinions, thoughts and feelings. Let them take the lead if they want to talk, listen. If they aren’t ready yet, simply be there for them.
Patience. Be patient and open-minded. Allow them to grieve in their own way. Encourage your teen to seek support from others if they continue to struggle (such as their friends, a counselor or pastor, etc.) However, be careful not to push too hard.
Validate your teen’s feelings, don’t minimize them. Let them know it’s okay to have the feelings they are experiencing. Help them understand the different range of emotions is normal when facing a loss.
Check-in with other adults involved in their life such as teachers, schools, coaches, guidance counselors, etc.
Model healthy grieving (coping). This isn’t always easy. Following death, teens may witness the adults in charge really struggle. It’s okay to grieve and show emotion in front of an adolescent, this normalizes feelings and sets a good example for expressing oneself. But be self-aware, if your emotion is extreme it could cause anxiety for the adolescent and/or put them in the position of having to support you. If you feel yourself losing control, it’s time to look at your own coping.
Get help if needed or if they ask for it. With time, most teens struggling with grief are able to return to normal routines, though you should anticipate some ups and downs. It’s similar to adults suffering with loss — but with teen grief, some need more additional support than others. If your teen is unable to move forward from their feelings of loss, and are continuing to experience some of the symptoms above, it may be time to consider a grief counselor.
If you have exhausted your local resources, therapy didn’t work or your teen refused to attend, you may want to learn about the benefits of residential treatment for teen help. Contact us for more information.