How to Support the Grieving Teen

Below we will outline steps for supporting a grieving teen, emphasizing the importance of open communication to foster emotional expression. Additionally, addressing the need to recognize and respect diverse grieving styles among teenagers, while offering practical support, encouraging connections, and providing stability. Creating a safe and private space and highlighting the significance of self-care will be integral aspects of the guidance provided.

Open Communication:
Encourage open and honest communication. Let teens know that it’s okay to express their feelings, whether it’s sadness, anger, confusion, or a mix of emotions. Be a good listener and validate their emotions without judgment.

Provide a Sense of Stability:
Maintaining regular routines. Consistency in daily life can help teens feel secure during a time of upheaval. If lots of changes are occurring as a result of the loss, attempt to maintain some of the routines when/if possible. This will help to bring some sense of stability and predictability to what likely feels like a chaotic and confusing time.

Practical Support:
Help with practical aspects of daily life, such as meals, transportation, or household chores. Grieving teens may appreciate assistance in managing day-to-day responsibilities.

Encourage Connection:
Support teens in maintaining connections with friends and family. Social support is crucial during times of grief, and friendships can provide a valuable source of comfort.

Respect Privacy:
Respect teens’ need for privacy. While some may want to share their feelings openly, others may need time alone to process their emotions. Provide space for both.

Create a Safe Space:
Establish an environment where teens feel safe expressing their emotions. Assure them that their feelings are valid and that you are there to offer support whenever they are ready to talk.

Promote Self-Care:
Encourage healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, or engaging in activities they enjoy. Self-care is an essential part of the grieving process.

Examining Dr. Worden’s Research in Grief

Psychologist J. William Worden, developed the following “four tasks of mourning”, which provide a roadmap for comprehending the complex and individualized nature of grief experiences. By acknowledging and navigating these challenges, we can understand and help teens foster healing and integration in their journey through grief.

Task One: Accepting the Reality of the Loss

  • Within this stage, a teen may be finding it very difficult to accept the fact that their loved one has passed. They may experience feelings of shock and anger as they come to terms with the permanence of the death.
  • To help a teen through this stage, it’s crucial to create a safe and non-judgmental space for open communication. This means allowing the teen to express what they are feeling without jumping in to advise or trying to change what they are feeling. It means just listening and hearing what they have to share.

Task Two: Process the Pain of Grief

  • Processing the pain is an incredibly difficult task which involves the emotional work of grief, where a teen faces and expresses the intense emotions associated with the loss.
  • During this time period, it may be helpful to engage in activities that allow them to explore and communicate their feelings and to be attentive to a teen’s needs.

Task Three: Adjust to a World without the Deceased

  • Within this stage, a teen must come to terms with a world without their loved one. They must recognize and cope with the differences within their daily lives and relationships.
  • To create a supportive environment, assist them in establishing new routines and encourage connections with friends and family.

Task Four: Find an Appropriate Place for the Deceased in their Life

  • In this stage, it is crucial to help a teen to move forward, while also honoring and respecting the deceased.
  • Assist the teen in preserving the memory of the loved one they lost through collaboration and set achievable short-term goals aligned with their aspirations.

Ultimately, Dr. Worden’s ‘four tasks of mourning’ may serve as an invaluable framework to understand and navigate the complex terrain of a teen’s grief. These tasks provide a structured outline, offering insights into the emotional journey teenagers undergo after the loss of a loved one. By recognizing and comprehending each task, we gain a deeper understanding of teen’s experiences, enabling us to provide tailored emotional support and guidance that aligns with their unique needs.

References
Balk, D. E. (2011). Adolescent development end bereavement: An introduction. PsycEXTRA Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/e542572012-002
Centre, C. G. (2023, September 14). Teen grief: Common responses and ways you can help. www.hospicecalgary.ca. https://www.hospicecalgary.ca/2021/12/02/teen-grief/
Helping teens with traumatic grief: Tips for caregivers. (n.d.). https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/tip-sheet/helping-teens-with-traumatic-grief-tips-for-caregivers-updated.pdf

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