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Know what is normal for your teen’s age
group. As teens grow and develop, they change the way they think about and
express grief. Although each teen is different, there are some
expected changes in thinking that occur during the early, middle, and late
Listen and watch for opportunities. If you listen
closely when a teen is talking and watch his or her behavior, you will find
opportunities to help the teen who is grieving.
Don’t force a teen
to talk about his or her feelings. If the teen feels comfortable with you and
feels that you are willing to listen, he or she will talk when
Make time to listen to a teen who wants to talk. When a teen
wants to talk, give him or her your undivided attention. This will let the teen
know that he or she is important and that grieving is important.
How can you help a teen who is grieving?
You may feel
unsure about how to approach a teen who is grieving. Here are some general
concepts to keep in mind:
Let your teen react to the loss in his or her
own way. Some teens are naturally quiet and may need to express their grief in
private. Some teens feel so frustrated and helpless that they may react
strongly, even showing intense rage. They may need reassurance that their
intense feelings are normal reactions to a stressful
Allow your teen to question. Teens who experience loss
often question the meaning of life, what happens after death, why does tragedy
occur, and why bad things happen to good people. You can best help your teen by
allowing him or her to ask questions.
Give your teen time to adjust
to a loss. Teens vary in their ability to adjust to major changes, including
losses in their lives. Your teen may not be ready to respond to a loss at the
same time as you or other people. Do not force your teen to grieve on your
Reassure your teen that grieving is normal. Your teen
may need reassurance that the sadness and other feelings of grief will lessen
over time. Use comforting touches and hugs to help convey your understanding
Set reasonable limits on your teen’s behavior. When a
major loss occurs in a teen’s life, rebellious behaviors may become more
dramatic. This is often a sign that a teen is having intense feelings about
what has just happened. Teens usually feel more comfortable when they are clear
about how far they can go with their behavior. Be firm with your teen and clear
about your expectations of him or her.
Here are some ways to help a teen who is grieving.
Teach your teen about the normal grieving
process. Because teens normally have mood swings and conflicting feelings, they
may need help telling the difference between normal feelings and feelings of
grief. Talk with your teen about the grieving process.
your teen. Be prepared to drop what you are doing and listen when he or she is
ready to talk about the loss. Let your teen talk about the loss in indirect
ways, if he or she needs to. Listen for the feelings that your teen is
expressing. Adults often want to help a teen or ease the teen’s pain. Resist
the urge to help your teen by talking, offering advice, or solving his or her
problems. Let your teen use his or her own problem-solving skills. Listen and respond in a way that shows you’re trying to understand what’s being said. This may encourage your teen to talk
Handle serious behavior problems appropriately. Sometimes a
teen’s behavior does not improve when reasonable limits have been set by
adults. Start by calmly talking with your teen about problem behavior. Seek
professional counseling for your teen or for yourself if you are not able to
handle problem behaviors on your own.
Tell other significant adults
in your teen’s life about the recent loss. Teachers, school counselors, and
coaches may also be able to help your teen work through his or her
Following are some activities you can do with the different
ages of teens to help when they are grieving:
Early teens: Since these
teens may feel ill at ease when expressing grief, ask your teen to draw a
picture, make a picture collage, or write a story or poem about his or her
loss. Talk about the feelings that are expressed in the
Middle teens: Since they cannot
imagine their own death and often think that they will live forever, middle
teens need activities that express their feelings in a healthy way. Look at
photographs, watch a sad movie, or listen to sad songs with your teen. Use the
time to let your teen talk or just sit quietly.
Late teens: Although late teens grieve more like adults, they
may not want to participate in the activities associated with a major loss. For
example, they may not be able to help other people after a natural disaster or
attend a service for a deceased relative. Respect your teen’s position. Do not
force your teen to participate in activities that he or she feels uncomfortable
doing. It may interfere with his or her ability to grieve. Your teen will
grieve on his or her own time. Help your teen find activities to express his or
her grief, such as a private service at home for the loved one who died.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD – Internal Medicine Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerJean S. Kutner, MD, MSPH – Geriatric Medicine, Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine