Mum and teenage daughter

Helping teenagers cope with grief

Posted by AK Lander | On October 18, 2019 09:07

Grief is difficult, no matter a person’s age. However, teenagers especially can find it hard to cope. Find out some ways you can help your teenager.

Coping with grief is difficult for people of all ages, but for teenagers, who are already dealing with the challenges of adolescence, it can be especially hard to cope with the loss of a loved one. Unlike children, teenagers tend to understand death. However, unlike adults, they’re often not experienced or mature enough to be able to cope with grief as it is likely to be their first experience with death. Whether it’s a grandparent passing away or the unexpected death of a friend or family member, it can be difficult to know how to support your teenager through such a sad circumstance. In this guide, we list some of the ways you can try to help.

Prevent other stresses

Teenagers usually have plenty on their plate, between social clubs, homework and exams, there is always an upcoming deadline or somewhere to be. If your teenager has recently lost someone in the family, make sure to notify the school so they’re aware as to why your child may be behaving differently. If it was the death in the family and you are also grieving, but having to plan the funeral or look for a quality headstone, try to avoid offloading your jobs or worries onto your teen and instead, confide in another older member of the family. Although it’s important to be open about your feelings, and show that it’s ok to express emotions, be careful that you aren’t relying on them to support you.

Give them space

Boy wearing a hat

If the death of a loved one is making your teenager quiet or recluse, it can be tempting to try and pressure them to spend time with the family or their friends. However, your teen may still need time alone to process what has happened, which can sometimes take a lot longer than it would for an adult.

Becky from The Lifestyle Blogger UK shares her advice: “A teenager is full of new hormones and new feelings they are trying to deal with anyway so adding grief with this can be very hard for a teenager to deal with. After going through a death in my family as a 13-year-old, my advice would be for the parents to let them know they are there if they want to talk but also not to push the subject.

“Give them space but also keep an eye on them. When I was given the space to think things through, it really helped me and knowing that my parents weren't pushing me to talk was a huge help. I liked knowing that they would be there when I was ready to talk to them, but it felt nice knowing they trusted me to do things in my own time/way.”

Marie from Tummy 2 Mummy, an honest parenting blog, agrees. After losing her Dad when Marie was only fourteen, she has plenty of advice for parents looking to help their teens through grief: “I think just be patient. Understand that they may not want hugs from you or to sit and talk about feelings. Just be let them know you are there and give them space. Ask what you can do to help, but never force your own opinions on them.”

Don’t force conversations

Although you have good intentions, adding pressure for your teen to talk about their feelings can have the reverse effect. Teenagers, especially ones aged 13-15, are naturally secretive and can often feel embarrassed about their feelings. Make them aware that you’re always available if they need to talk but avoid constantly asking how they are feeling. Respect their way of grieving, even if it is different from your own.

Becky from The Lifestyle Blogger UK continues: “Don’t push the subject and say they have to talk about it. For me, at the time this would have made it so much worse, especially if I really didn't want to at the time. Things like - 'it will be OK,’ or ‘It will get better’ is not at all helpful at the time. There isn't much you can say. However, being available is the best thing you could do.”

Be patient

Teenage boy walking through a tunnel

It may take weeks or months before your teen is ready to talk about their feelings, so be patient and trust that they will confide in you in their own time. Remember that it’s natural for teenagers to experience mood swings and these will likely be heightened in a time of loss. Unless serious behavioural problems occur be patient if they seem angry or ‘snappy’, avoid taking it personally and reassure them that it is a normal part of grief.  

Amanda from the lifestyle blog I’m Amanda says: “They can be emotional, frustrated, angry and sometimes very lonely, like anyone else. Anything and everything can be a painful reminder of those who they have lost.”

Georgia from Brit Voyage, a blog for tips on exploring Great Britain, spoke to us about her experience with loss as a teen: “I was eighteen when a friend from school committed suicide and I did not experience the same intensity of grief again until I was 24 and lost my grandfather. Although the loss of my grandfather was much more painful, the passing of my friend was a complete shock. The major thing that enabled me to move forward from these traumatic situations was that my grief was a shared experience - with my friends from school, and with my family. Had I felt alone at these points in my life, I'm not sure I would have been okay.

“It's no secret that teenagers are explosive and emotional beings, who sometimes struggle to process their feelings. Patience is key, as teens may be prone to outbursts, or shut down entirely. Allow them to 'do what they want' in the initial aftermath of the grief - if they want a day off, or two cheeseburgers instead of one, or a new pair of trainers, let them have it (within reason) as it might give them that tiny burst of happiness they need to get through the day. Then, patience, love, affection works wonders.”

Avoid using clichés

Using clichés and making an extra effort to cheer your teen up can make them feel as if they need to hide their emotions. Instead, reassure them that it’s ok to be sad, angry and confused.

Helen from Actually Mummy, a blog for parenting teens and lifestyle, tells us: “The one thing I'd say is essential, is never to try to cheer them up. By all means, distract them with enjoyable activities, but don't tell them to try and be cheerful. They need time to process what has happened and to fit it into their new version of life. Empathy is always the best way to make a child feel accepted and understood, and in time, to come to terms with their own feelings. Statements like ‘That must feel very painful,’ always land better with a teenager than questions like ‘How are you feeling?’ Above all, let them know that you're always available to talk when they want to, and demonstrate that by paying them full attention when they do decide to express what's on their mind.”

Marie from Tummy 2 Mummy also tells us: “I clearly remember my Gran calling me the morning my Dad died, she obviously didn’t have the words to say and said, ‘well these things happen’. I remember my older cousin writing me a letter and told me it was really awful what happened, and it wasn’t right or fair and it was ok to be angry. That resonated with me.”

Cass from The Diary of a Frugal Family, a family lifestyle blog, adds “Try to avoid saying clichés like 'it'll be ok,' or 'time heals' because to a teenager, they just sound like you're saying what you think they want to hear. They just need you to tell them that you're there when they need you.”

Talk about things whilst doing an activity

Rainy walk on the beach

Teenagers often find it easier to talk about their feeling in a no-pressure situation where the attention isn’t focused on them. Helen from Actually Mummy explains: “Some children are very open, and will want to talk, cry, and be comforted. Those are the easy ones in my experience. Others tend to bottle up how they're feeling. If this is your child, it might help to talk about things when you're involved in another activity. Take the dog for a walk or cook together - often they will start to open up when there's no pressure to actually talk.”

Answer new questions they have

Its unlikely teenagers have ever thought about death in much detail. Cass adds “Teenagers think they're invincible and someone close to them dying can really hit them hard. They may act like they're ok but bear in mind that they'll need support.”

Understandably, they’ll begin asking new questions about life and death. Plus, they may be wondering what happens at a funeral and what they need to know about funeral etiquette. Be sure to dedicate your time to answer any questions they may have.

Remind them it’s ok to have bad days

Help them understand that grief is not a linear process and it’s ok to have good days and bad days, no matter how much time has passed.

Amanda recommends some reminders to tell your teen: “It’s ok for them to be; jealous of other people and feel temporarily disconnected from them, angry for no reason at all, to not want to see others celebrating special days and that certain days (Mother’s Day, birthday’s, Christmas) are difficult.”

Signs they might need extra help

Minus the odd bad day, most teenagers can get back into a normal routine. Others, however, may need additional support. Keep an eye on your teenager for any dangerous or concerning behaviour that doesn’t change. These include:

  • Symptoms of PTSD and depression
  • Sleeping difficulties and restlessness
  • Risk-taking/reckless behaviour including substance abuse
  • Uncontrollable anger

If you’re concerned for your teenager, you can contact one of the many helplines available for advice, including Child Bereavement UK, Winston’s Wish and Hope Again. You can also support your teenager by going with them to talk to a GP, who may suggest counselling.

For anyone, losing someone is a sad and difficult time in life. Get in touch with our professional team to find out how we can make choosing a memorial as easy as possible. Phone 0800 377 7057 or email info@aklander.co.uk.