Teenagers who suffer a significant loss need extra love and support to help get them through their grief. They are complicated individuals dealing with hormonal and developmental changes at this stage in their life, as they straddle the line between adulthood and childhood. Not yet fully grown and able to understand adulthood’s complexities yet no longer children needing to be protected from life’s harsh realities.
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Helping a teenager move through their grief may prove challenging at first. But with time, love, and effort, you’ll both get through this period and find healing from the pain and sorrow associated with their loss.
Tips for Talking to a Grieving Teenager
Talking to a teenager can be difficult on any given day. When you add grief and loss to the mix, expect that talking with a teenager who’s grieving will be a bit challenging. The following tips may help make engaging them in conversation a bit easier for the two of you.
1. Acknowledge them
When talking to a grieving teen, acknowledge their grief. Let them know that their thoughts, feelings, and opinions matter and that you’re there for them whenever they need you.
Although you may not completely understand their pain or what they’re going through, you can be present for them as they explore their grief.
2. Let them talk
Allow your teenager to talk. Validate their feelings and expressions of grief and be available to listen to them when they need someone to talk to. Stay in the present when they’re trying to tell you about their grief. Try not to give your opinions on how you think they should be feeling or reacting to their loss.
You can learn a lot about what a teenager is going through by taking a step back and letting them lead the conversation. Being an active listener to a grieving child means focusing on what they’re saying without letting your mind race into thoughts of how you’ll respond to their concerns.
3. Encourage them to ask questions
When talking to a teen, be patient, understanding, and open-minded to what they’re saying. Prepare to be shocked by some of their revelations, but try not to act out in ways that’ll cause them to shut down. A teen who trusts you enough to talk to you will quickly shut down if you act in ways that signal that you’re not ready to hear what they have to say.
Encourage them to ask the difficult questions. If they’ve suffered the death of a classmate, have an honest conversation about what happened and how it’s affected them.
4. Give them room to grieve
When talking to teens who are grieving, remember that they’re unique individuals dealing with many other issues associated with teen angst on top of their grief. Allow them the needed space to sort out their feelings and emotions in private. Teach them what it means to grieve and what emotions and reactions to expect, then take a step back and give them some room.
You may find that your teenager withdraws from the rest of the family and isolates themselves as they’re trying to cope with their grief. Allow them to explore their feelings on their own. As much as you may want to reach out to make sure that they’re doing okay, sometimes you have to let them experience their grief on their own.
5. Share stories of their loved one
Losing a parent as a teenager can be incredibly challenging for a child. All their hopes and dreams for their future may feel like they’re gone in an instant, especially in a single-parent household. A teenager may have a difficult time adjusting to their loss. They will appreciate additional support from you as they go about trying to carve out a new identity.
This is an appropriate time to sit with them and share stories of their loved one. This gives them hope and restores faith that they won’t forget their parent as time goes on. There are also unique gifts for a child who lost a parent that you can give to help them keep their loved one close. A special DIY gift that you can give to a teenage child is a photo album filled with pictures of them and their parent who died.
6. Engage in physical activities
Exercise is a perfect way to let out some of the stress associated with grief. A teenager who’s lashing out in anger or has fallen into depression may benefit from engaging in physical activity.
Consider joining them for a day out at the park to shoot some hoops or going on a hike. You can also try some healing water activities such as kayaking and canoeing. Expect to have to nudge your teen a bit into taking part in this type of outing, especially if they aren’t handling their grief so well. In time, they’ll start looking forward to your special days out as a way to heal from their pain.
Tips for Helping Your Teenage Child Deal With Grief
Teenagers who suffer from grief and loss may not always let you in on what they’re going through. Keep in mind that most teenagers don’t want to talk with you about death. They may also not let you in on how they’re feeling right away, if at all.
Here are some ways of helping your teenager deal with grief without inadvertently pushing them away:
7. Teach them grief traditions
A teenage child may not yet be emotionally developed enough to understand grief rituals and funeral etiquette. Not knowing what’s expected of them and how they should act and react can cause them anxiety. You can help reduce their death-related fears by explaining to them when and why certain things occur soon after the death of a loved one.
Prepare them for what to expect at a burial, funeral, or wake. You may also want to pull out photographs and reintroduce them to who’s who so that they’ll recognize some of the faces they’ll be seeing as people show up to pay their condolences.
You can also encourage them to participate. Give them a specific role if they want one. But never force a child of any age to participate in any traditions or rituals if they don’t want to.
8. Give them an outlet
A teenager’s grief is unique. You can help prepare them for the emotions that they’ll be experiencing as they learn to cope with their loss. Offer them an outlet for their pain by encouraging and suggesting journaling, grief workbooks, group therapy, or other coping strategies.
However, remember that you should never push any activity on someone when they aren’t comfortable doing it. When you force them into taking an active part in the grieving process, they’ll likely shut down and withdraw from you from everyone. Keep an eye on them as you encourage and continue to suggest different ways of helping them cope.
9. Maintain structure
Structured routines are essential to maintain when a teenager’s been affected by a significant loss. This may be one of their first experiences with loss, death, and bereavement, and they may have trouble processing their grief. It’s essential during this time to maintain their routine as closely as possible to what it was before their loss. It may be impossible to keep every routine going as before, but do try to maintain the most basic ones until there needs to be a shift to accommodate any changed conditions.
Maintaining discipline and setting limits is also important during this time. Relaxing household or parenting rules may seem like the best thing to do for a grieving child, but doing so may confuse them. They may start lashing out in anger over the multiple losses they’re experiencing. A changed routine is also registered as a loss. It may give them comfort to recognize some of the everyday routines they’re used to instead of dealing with numerous changes all at once.
10. Understand their needs
Bereaved teenager’s needs will be different from that of adults or younger children. Teenagers are not yet as emotionally developed as adults, but they understand a lot more than younger children do. Depending on their age, developmental, and maturity level, you’ll need to structure grief and bereavement support differently for a teenager than you would for younger children.
A teenager needs love, support, kindness, and understanding from you as they try to deal with their grief and other challenges they face during their teenage years. Ask your teenager what you can do to help them, and offer suggestions based on your experiences.
11. Get them counseling
Grief counseling for teenagers is available free of charge through most educational institutions or community resources. Some teenagers are not open to receiving outside help because of the stage of life that they’re in right now, and may think that they know how to handle everything. As a result, they might not be open to your suggestions of getting outside help.
Don’t be discouraged if your teenager refuses to seek counseling. Keep offering it from time to time. Offer to go with them to the first session if that makes them feel more comfortable.
Helping a Teen Get Through Grief
Getting a teenager through their grief may be challenging, but it’s not impossible. You’ll need to develop a thick skin and prepare yourself for unexpected grief reactions such as withdrawal, anger, substance abuse, and lashing out. All of these are typical responses to loss and suffering.
With patience, love, and support, your teen can successfully get through their grief.