Four Ways To Help Your Teen Grieve Productively

When your teen experiences the death of someone close, it can shake them to their core.

Adolescence is a time of dizzying physical changes and mounting academic and social pressure. Grief can exacerbate these challenges, especially if your child has lost someone key to their developing sense of identity.

If your teen is unable to cope or is resorting to dangerous behaviors, you may want to consider placing them in a residential treatment center for troubled teens. There are, however, many ways to help your child grieve in place. Here are four things to keep in mind during this painful rite of passage.  

1. There Is No Normal Way To Grieve

Your troubled teen may be feeling a whirlwind of emotions in the wake of their loved one’s death. They may doubt if they can go on and, simultaneously, wonder why they can’t “get over” their loss.

Your household may feel volatile as your child expresses torrential grief or lashes out in anger, an emotion many young people feel more comfortable expressing than sadness. Conversely, your bereaved adolescent may act as if nothing has happened.

They may feel numb, dazed or unreal while they process the circumstances. This, in turn, can make them feel guilty, fearing their emotional distance signifies a lack of caring. Your teen may also only seem impassive, preferring to grieve privately or unburden themselves to peers.

Let your child know there’s no normal way to grieve. Encourage them to assume a state of curiosity and self-compassion as they untangle their emotions.

2. Grieve Along With Your Teen

Parents who are bereaved don’t want to fall apart, giving their children further proof their support system can disappear at any time.

You should try to reserve expressing your most intense emotions— instability, rage, terror and despair—for conversations with adults. Just make sure you’re not trading stoicism for connection.

Some parents refrain from talking about loss and pain for fear they’ll upset or burden their child. Your business-as-usual pose, however, can minimize your child’s feelings and cause them to feel alone.

Your teen will grieve with or without your support. Let them know you’re available, taking your adolescent’s cue as to whether they need to talk openly or just spend time “vegging” together.

A parent’s grief also offers the chance to model healthy coping behaviors like self-care, whether you’re going to therapy or hitting the gym or trail.

3. Help Your Teen Understand Complex Feelings

Tumult is a hallmark of adolescence. There’s a natural push-pull, with teens seeking independence while simultaneously needing support. As a result, your child may have experienced conflicts with the person they’ve lost, for instance fighting with their deceased parent or sibling. This may cause guilt or a feeling of unfinished business.

Let your teen know that it’s okay to have mixed feelings about people they love, acknowledging their strengths and flaws. Emphasize that there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship— that your child and the person they lost loved each other the best way they could.

4. Grief Can Be Expressed Creatively

A grieving teen may attempt to escape pain by ignoring their feelings or by engaging in dangerous activities.

It’s far healthier to deal with those tough emotions, though. Engaging in creative acts like journaling, art-making or dancing can provide a helpful outlet.

Signs that your child is having difficulty processing their loss include:

  • Symptoms of teen depression, like persistent sadness, low self-esteem and changes in sleep patterns or appetite
  • Deteriorating relationships
  • Unmanageable anger
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Self-harm
  • Eating disorders
  • Failure in school or loss of interest in academic and extracurricular activities

If you and your troubled teen are in over your heads, you may want to reach out to a residential treatment center like the Liahona Treatment Center. We believe love, respect and discipline each play a part in helping troubled boys get their lives back on track. Contact us to discuss your concerns and questions with one of our placement counselors.




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