Supporting your teen with empathy and understanding

Helping Your Teenager Cope with Grief and Loss

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Everyone knows that it’s hard to lose a loved one. However, it can be particularly painful for teenagers, who are already navigating the turbulent waters of adolescence. Grief and loss can feel overwhelming, making it hard for teens to function, think, or even breathe. The world around them may seem distant and out of reach, as youth often feel isolated in their grief—as if no one else understands the depth of their despair. However, with your support and understanding, your child can find a way to move forward.

Understanding teen grief

Grief is a normal reaction when we lose something or someone important, whether a loved one, relationship, cherished dream, or another part of who we are. Loss can happen to anyone at any age, but teenagers are especially vulnerable. They’re in a critical life phase, working hard to establish their identity and find their place in the world. A sudden loss can feel like a crushing blow they’ll never recover from. 

During adolescence, youth are still learning to understand and manage their emotions. Filled with intense feelings and rapid changes, this life stage is a challenging time for most. Losing a loved one during the teen years can therefore be devastating, especially when it happens without warning. The sudden shock of loss can disrupt an adolescent’s sense of stability and security, making it hard for them to regain their footing. They might become overwhelmed and unable to focus on school or friends. For a teen already struggling with the usual adolescent issues, grief and loss can feel like too much to handle.

Teens dealing with loss sometimes feel like they’re the only ones enduring such intense pain. Their friends often lack the experience to know what to say or how to support them, and adults might seem distant or out of touch. This sense of isolation can deepen a teen’s emotional distress and even lead to depression, making the grieving process all the more difficult.

Signs of grief in teens

The following are common signs of grief in adolescents.

  • Withdrawal from social activities and relationships
  • Anger, irritability, or mood swings
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Decreased interest in hobbies
  • Difficulty concentrating or paying attention
  • Physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Substance abuse or self-harming behaviors
  • Sudden changes in behavior or personality

Recognizing these signs is crucial, as teens might not openly share their feelings. By seeking professional help, you can show your teen that you care deeply about their well-being and are committed to supporting them every step of the way. One convenient and effective form of such help is online teen counseling

Tips for responding to teens coping with grief and loss

Listen actively

When an adolescent is grieving, sometimes the most powerful response is to listen: no judgment, no interruptions, and no trying to fix anything. Just be present and show that you care. Avoid downplaying their feelings or telling them to “get over it.” Instead, make eye contact, nod to show you’re engaged, and ask open-ended questions that encourage them to share more.

By listening attentively, you convey the message that their feelings matter. Remind them that their grief is valid and that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, confused, or any other emotion they’re experiencing. By showing that you’re willing to sit with them in their pain, you help them feel supported during this tough time.

Maintain regular routines 

When teens suffer a loss, they may feel like their whole world has turned upside down. They may be desperate for a sense of normalcy—for things to feel like they did before the loss. One of the best ways to help them feel more stable is to maintain routines that provide structure and predictability. 

Sticking to routines can help teens feel grounded and secure. The familiarity of regular mealtimes with everyone gathering around the table, for example, or a weekly family game night that happens without fail can provide a sense of continuity. Such routines remind teens that though some parts of their lives have changed, not everything has been upended.

Respect boundaries 

Teens who are hurting often need a comforting presence without pressure or expectation. Such company makes them feel supported but not like they must put on a brave face or pretend everything is okay. Pressuring them to share their thoughts can cause them to shut down, making it harder for them to open up in the future.

Teens often lack the words to describe their feelings, and that’s okay. Be patient and allow them to share their thoughts in their own time and in their own ways. Let them know you’re there for them when they’re ready to talk.

Ways to help teens coping with loss

Exercise

For grieving teens, finding the motivation to exercise can be challenging. However, physical activity releases endorphins, which can decrease emotional suffering. Exercise can also improve sleep, which is often disrupted when dealing with loss or trauma. A regular workout routine can help your teen feel more tired at night, making it easier for them to fall and stay asleep.

And then there’s the social aspect of exercise. Joining a fitness class or sports team can help your teen feel connected and part of a community, which is crucial when feeling isolated and alone. 

Creative expression

Creative activities, such as writing, drawing, painting, music, and photography, provide a safe outlet for your child’s feelings and help them manage grief. 

  • Writing: Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to write out memories and experiences can help your teen work through their emotions and find peace and understanding. It also helps externalize thoughts, making them more manageable and less overwhelming. Encourage your teen to write freely, without judgment. 
  • Artistic expression: Art can be deeply therapeutic, allowing a teen to visually document their emotional journey and express feelings they might lack words for. Whether they choose to paint, draw, sculpt, or create through another art form, encourage your teen to explore where their creativity takes them. 
  • Music: A powerful means to connect with our emotions, music can help teens cope with loss. Encourage them to create playlists that reflect their various emotional needs. For example, they can make one for when they need to cry and let it all out, another for when they need a mood boost, and still another with songs that remind them of happy times spent with the person they’re grieving
  • Creative tributes: Creating a tribute for their loved one can be a wonderful way for a teen to celebrate their legacy. For example, they could create a scrapbook with photos, letters, and mementos that honor the life of the person who passed away. A photo slideshow is another beautiful way to present meaningful moments and tell a story that words alone can’t convey. 

Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness equips us to gently acknowledge our pain without becoming overwhelmed. Encourage your teen to take a few minutes each day to sit quietly, close their eyes, and focus on their breath. Paying attention to their breathing can bring a sense of calm and help them feel more grounded.

Another helpful technique is guided imagery, which involves visualizing a peaceful place where one feels safe, comfortable, and relaxed, such as a beach or a forest. This practice can be especially soothing during times of intense sadness. Many mindfulness apps and videos offer guided practices that can help your teen incorporate mindfulness into their daily life. 

Getting the help your child needs 

If not addressed, grief can lead to more pain and suffering in the form of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

But there’s hope. Therapy—such as online counseling for teens—offers a safe and confidential space for your teen to open up about their feelings and thoughts with a trained professional who cares. Therapists can help adolescents develop coping skills to deal with the overwhelming emotions and difficult memories that come with loss. 

Support groups, including virtual group therapy for teens, may be led by a mental health professional or trained facilitator. They may include activities such as writing, art, or talking through problems. In these groups, teens meet peers who understand the pain of losing someone they love. They realize that they’re not the only ones struggling to make sense of their grief and that others are there to help them through this difficult time.

Final thoughts

Losing a loved one can be incredibly difficult for an adolescent. However, with family support, they won’t have to confront it alone. If your teen has suffered loss, be present, listen without judgment, and offer guidance on ways to cope when needed. Your efforts will help them face their grief and ultimately find healing and peace. If you’re looking for further assistance, consider the many benefits of online teen therapy.