Bereavement is one of the hardest things a person can go through, and the experience can be even more difficult for children and teenagers. Our teenage years are a period of significant physical and emotional change as we move from childhood towards becoming an adult. During this time, an adolescent’s understanding of death will have increased but their ability to cope with big feelings may still be developing.
Knowing how to support a grieving teenager may feel challenging, and you may be wondering how you can provide the support they need. In our latest blog, we’ve compiled a list of things to consider when caring for a young person in grief.
There is no ‘normal’
Many of us have an idea in our head about what it looks like to be in grief, but it’s important to remember that there isn’t a ‘normal’ way to grieve. Teenagers, in particular, may respond to death in very different ways. Some may way to talk things through, some may close off or want to hide away, and others will appear unaffected by the loss. You may also find that the way a teenager grieves will change from one day to the next. These are all normal responses to bereavement.
Try not to place any expectation on the young person in your life. Instead, aim to respond to whatever their needs are in the moment. Providing them with a sense of stability during this time is one of the most powerful things you can do. Let them know you are here for them, and demonstrate this by being present and available for them as and when they need you.
Keep some normality
Maintaining some sense of normality can be helpful for many teenagers. Once the initial shock of a death has passed, returning to school or resuming activities such as hobbies or socialising with friends can be helpful. This sense of normality can give many young people a feeling of stability at a time when life feels turbulent, and could provide a ‘break’ from the intensity of grief.
There is no right or wrong time to resume daily activities or socialise with friends – everyone is different and some people will need more time alone than others. Be guided by them during this time, and allow them to decide what feels right and when to return to school.
Talk about it
Talking about death isn’t easy, and teenagers may find it hard to open up to their family and friends. You may notice teenagers pull away from adults and isolate themselves away from others following a loss. It may also be difficult for them to open up to their friends about what they are feeling. Whilst this is a perfectly normal response, talking things through is proven to be one of the most effective ways to come to terms with a loss.
Try not to force conversations or make them talk before they are ready. Aim to create a home environment that welcomes questions and conversations. A teenager may find it easier to talk to someone outside of their family or friendship group, and sometimes the most unlikely person can offer the most support.
Foster real conversations
Although teenagers are still developing skills for coping with big emotions, don’t shy away from having open and honest conversations about death. You may think that you are protecting a young person from unnecessary pain, but avoiding difficult topics or withholding sensitive information could leave a teenager feeling shut out or that they are being treated like a child. Many teenagers will welcome being treated with a sense of maturity at this time.
Many people need additional help to cope with their grief, and teenagers are no exception. The UK has many resources and charities that can support young people in grief. The following organisations provide bereavement support specifically for children and teens in the UK….
We have also included a list of different bereavement resources on our website that may also be useful.
For anyone who would benefit from increased support, a bereavement counsellor might be the right choice. Bereavement counsellors are trained professionals who can provide grief therapy and support for anyone coming to terms with a loss.
At Dillamore we work with Carole Warren. She is a bereavement counsellor who has over 20 years of experience working with the bereaved. Our team at Dillamore would be happy to arrange a session with Carole on your behalf.