Helping Teens Deal With Grief April 21, 2021

Helping Teens Deal With Grief

Grief is a difficult emotion to face, and everyone expresses it differently. Helping teens deal with grief can be especially difficult, as teens and young adults often do not yet have the experiences or coping skills of an adult. If you are a parent or caregiver, it can be helpful to understand how teen grief may differ from adults, as well as the stages of grief. As an adult, you may also be stressed about funeral planning while dealing with your own feelings of grief. Remember that you do not have to go it alone. Resources like teen grief counseling and teen grief support groups can make a world of difference. 

What is grief? And how is teen grief different?

If this is the first time a teen or young adult has lost a loved one, a deeper understanding of grief can help both the teen and the caregiver cope. First, it’s important to remember that grief is a natural response to death or loss. While the emotions, thoughts, and even physical feelings can be painful or overwhelming for teens, they are part of a normal and healthy response. 

Stages of grief

Recognizing the five stages of grief can go a long way in helping teens deal with grief. The Kübler-Ross theory suggests that grief is processed in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While these five stages often appear for both adult and teen grief, adults and teens may express them differently. 

  1. Denial, or shock, is usually the first reaction to loss. It can be hard to believe the reality of this loss, especially if it has happened suddenly. Processing this can be painful and difficult. A feeling of numbness and actions of withdrawal are common during this time.

  2. Anger is the second stage of grief. During extreme emotional discomfort, it is common for anger to become an outlet because it does not necessarily require the level of vulnerability that admissions of fear or sadness might.
  3. Bargaining is the third stage of grief. Whether it is adult grief or teen grief, the experience can make a person feel out of control. During the bargaining stage, a person might focus more on their personal thoughts or regrets to gain a sense of control over the situation.
  4. Depression is the fourth stage. It usually sets in when the person who has suffered a loss realizes that denial, anger, and bargaining are no longer an option. Faced with the reality of the situation, sadness grows. This feeling can be overwhelming and isolating for many.
  5. Acceptance is the fifth and final stage of grief. This is when a person no longer resists the reality of the situation and begins to seek healing or life lessons. This does not mean that the person is “over it,” as feelings of sadness will likely persist. However, it does mean the survival responses like denial, anger, and bargaining have ended. 

Each person will process and express the five stages of grief differently. There is no timeline or a definitive moment when a person moves from one stage to the next. While the process can’t be rushed, it is important to remember that each stage, albeit painful, is a normal response to the loss. 

Signs of Teen Grief

Teen grief looks different for every young person. While one teen may express grief through frequent crying for some, another may display anger or humor as a coping mechanism, and the next may seem repressed. Often, an adolescent’s mood may shift rapidly. These mood swings are normal during this time of life and can become more intense during periods of grief. 

A loss may also trigger existential questions or a loss of identity in a teen. They may question their faith or wonder about the meaning of life. If the person was extremely close to them, they may also feel confused about how the family dynamic has shifted or how they fit into the world without this person by their side. When helping teens deal with grief, be ready to have difficult conversations about these themes. 

Teen grief will cause an array of emotions within a young person. They may feel sadness, confusion, shock, and anger in waves or all at once. These are difficult emotions to cope with, particularly for young people who may not have experienced them in this light before. Parents and caregivers can normalize this whirlwind by being talking with their teens daily about how they are feeling and sharing stories about the person who has passed. 

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. However, It is important to encourage teens to face and express their grief through healthy behaviors. Allow your teen to express themselves when and how they like. Many are taught from an early age that expressing negative emotions like anger or sadness is wrong, but this idea makes processing both adult and teen grief in a healthy way more difficult. It is important to allow them to feel their emotions and complete the cycle. 


Tips for helping teens deal with grief 

Expressing grief through healthy behaviors is integral in helping teens deal with grief without engaging in impulsive or dangerous coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, fighting in school, or other forms of acting out. There are several actions you can take to support a more open and positive expression of teen grief. 

Encourage expression. 

Be patient and open-minded with a grieving teen. It is important that their thoughts, opinions, and feelings are heard. However, some teens are more talkative than others. While you can’t force your teen to say something they would rather keep to themselves at the moment, you can provide different avenues for them to express their loss. 

Some teens and young adults find journaling helpful in processing their emotions. Others might enjoy painting, sculpting, or playing music. You can also encourage your child to celebrate or memorialize the loved one in a personal way to help them cope. Creative activities can be incredibly helpful for more quiet teens, but it is important to give them downtime as well. As much as you are available to talk, also allow your teen the option to be alone for a while. 

Provide a sense of normalcy. 

The loss of a loved one is a life-altering event, and changing up other parts of your teen’s routine may create further duress. Maintaining a sense of normalcy in daily life in helping teens deal with grief and adjust to this major life change. While you cannot direct someone through the grieving process, you can encourage them to see friends and participate in daily activities to ease their mind and widen their support system.

Dear and familiar things like favorite movies and foods can also help a teen cope with loss. While playing your teen’s favorite movie won’t “fix” the grief, it can certainly provide a sense of comfort. These moments of comfort and familiarity can be a good time to check in with your teen and offer them a chance to talk if they would like. 

Consider teen grief counseling. 

You and your teen do not have to face grief alone. Professional support through teen grief counseling may help both of you cope with the loss in a healthy way. Counselors often approach teen grief a bit differently than adult grief, so finding a good teen grief counselor can provide your child with the specialized care they need. Counselors with experience helping teens deal with grief may also have tools and training that can help reach a teen who has withdrawn from friends and family for an extended period of time. 

Teens can also greatly benefit from talking with someone outside of the home. They may feel self-conscious or embarrassed about certain thoughts or emotions, or they may fear upsetting family members by talking about the loss. A teen grief counselor can help provide a safe, neutral place for them to express themselves and process their emotions with a trained professional. 

If you are looking for grief counseling for your teen, the National Alliance for Grieving Children offers a list of resources by state.

Look into teen grief support groups. 

It’s not just adults who are responsible for helping teens deal with grief. Other teens can be part of the process. Teen grief can make a young person feel misunderstood. Grief support groups, in conjunction with private counseling, may help them feel less alone—especially if they can express their grief with others in their age group. Seeing other teens face a difficult loss may help normalize their complex and painful feelings. A support group can also provide your teen with opportunities to create bonds with other young adults who’ve experienced a loss. 

Explain that grief is ongoing. 

One of the most difficult things about grief is that it never ends. When helping teens deal with grief, this reality can be a difficult one to face. However, grief will change in character and intensity over time. Many people express that grief comes in “waves,” and this is likely true in teen grief as well. You can prepare your teen for the many waves of emotions that are likely to come by acknowledging their pain and reminding them that they will get through it. 

Bateman Allen Funeral Home wants to always support you and your family in any way necessary. Although we are not grief counselors, we work hard to make our families feel comfortable and heard. Please reach out if you and your family need support to memorialize a passed or passing loved one.