By Melissa Skinner, M.A., LCPC
The teenage years can be a very turbulent time, but for those teens that have experienced the death of a family member or friend, it can be an especially challenging time. Navigating through their own grief, while trying to manage the roller coaster ride that is adolescence, is not easy. Since teens typically have less life experience and coping strategies then adults, they need the support of the important adults in their lives. Here are some ways adults can help teens to manage their grief.
1. STICK WITH ROUTINES
Adolescence is a time when most teens are very focused on fitting in with peers. When a death or tragedy occurs, they often feel singled out or set apart from the group. This compounds feelings of isolation and loneliness. Sticking to routines and helping to create a feeling of normalcy is important and will help your child feel less overwhelmed by their own sadness. Continue with their regular activities and encourage them to stay connected to friends.
2. LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN, BUT DON’T PUSH IT OPEN
As parents, we often just want to fix it and make things better for our children, but grief happens and unfolds at its own pace. Each person grieves differently and the process can’t be forced. Communicate to your teen, that you are always available, if or when they want to talk about the death. Do not force a conversation about their feelings, but instead follow their lead and be their “companion” on the journey.
3. ENCOURAGE THE EXPRESSION OF GRIEF THROUGH RITUALS
Many teens find comfort in the act of doing something when they’ve lost a loved one. Rituals can serve as a way to acknowledge the reality of the death, while also giving testimony to the unique life of the individual who has died. Rituals can be simple, such as carrying a symbolic object, as a reminder, or planting a tree in honor of the person who has died. Other ideas include, holding a candlelight service, writing a letter or leaving something on the gravesite.
4. GET HELP FOR YOUR TEEN
Grief ebbs and flows. There is no timeline for grief and no predictable, linear path through grief. Each person experiences it differently. One day you may find that your teen seems ok and the next day, not so much. In general, some teens will struggle more than others and may need additional support. Therapy is beneficial to teens that worry they may be burdening their parents (who are also grieving) with their own sadness. Additionally, through grief support groups, teens can learn more effective ways to use social support. Teens in bereavement groups, have the opportunity to process their loss in a supportive environment, with peers who are going through similar experiences.
Melissa Skinner is the founder of Northwest Counseling & Wellness and a Licensed Clinical Therapist who has been working with teens and their families for 15 years. To schedule a free phone consultation call 872-222-3132