Tips for Helping Children and Adolescents in Grief (2023)

Tips for Helping Children and Adolescents in Grief (1)

(Video) Children & grief in counseling: Considerations & intervention ideas

[Reviewed and updatedJune 6, 2022]

Children and adolescents grieve just as deeply as adults, but depending on their cognitive and emotional development, they will experience and express their grief differently from the grown-ups around them. Moving in and out of grief is natural for youngsters, and the symptoms of grief may come and go, varying in intensity. Their response will depend on the knowledge and skills available to them at the time of the loss. Having had less prior experience with crisis and its consequences, their repertoire of coping skills is simpler, their capacity to confront the reality of loss more limited and their ability to find meaning in life’s crises less mature. If surprised or embarrassed by the intensity of their grief, they may try to hide it or disguise it. Parents, relatives, teachers and friends are wise to watch and to tune in to their children and adolescents, to listen to them, be there for them and if unsure of what’s going on, to ask! More than anything else, children need their parents and the other adults in their world to be honest with them. They need accurate, factual information, freedom to ask questions and express their feelings, inclusion in decisions, discussions and family commemorative rituals, stable, consistent attention from their caretakers, and time to explore and come to terms with the meaning of their loss.

  • Recognize that death and loss are natural parts of living. Shielding children from grief is futile and gives them no role models to learn healthy, normal coping behaviors.
  • Be open and meticulously honest. Children know when adults are shading the truth. If children discover that you’ve distorted the truth or lied to them, they’ll have a great deal of trouble trusting you again.
  • First find out what the children already know or think they know about dying and death.
  • Validate feelings and encourage children to share their thoughts, fears and observations about what has happened.
  • Offer explanations that are age appropriate and at the child’s level of understanding. A child under age five needs comfort and support rather than detailed explanations, whereas a child over age five needs information that is simple, accurate, plain and direct.
  • Explain that in the circle of life, all living things will die someday and that death causes changes in a living thing.
  • Help children understand what “dead” means (that the body stops working and won’t work anymore) and that death is not the same as sleeping (that the sleeping body is still working, but just resting).
  • Don’t use confusing or misleading euphemisms such as “passed away,” “lost” or “gone on.” Such phrases imply the one who died is on a trip and will return, leave children feeling rejected or abandoned, or encourage them to go searching for the individual or hold out hope for his or her return.
  • Explain how we might feel when someone dies: sad, mad, or confused, and we may cry sometimes. Let your children know that laughing and playing are still okay, too, and that you respect their need to be children at this sad and difficult time.
  • Relieve the child of any feelings of responsibility for the death; magical thinking may lead a child to conclude that something she or he did, wished or imagined somehow caused the death.
  • Avoid telling children that the dead person was so good or so special that God wanted him or her to be with Him in heaven. Children may become angry with God or fear that they (or you) will be chosen next.
  • Respect and encourage your children’s needs to express and share feelings of sadness. When you bring up the subject, you’re showing your own willingness to talk about it. When in doubt about your children’s thoughts and feelings, ask.
  • Don’t feel as if you must have all the answers; sometimes just listening is enough. Expect that young children will ask and need answers to the same questions over and over again.
  • Find and read some of the many wonderful stories and books written especially for children to help them better understand death and grief. (See, for example, Using Children's Books to Help with Grief.)
  • Don’t cut off their feelings by noting how well your children are handling their grief or how brave or strong they are. Let them see you upset and crying, which implies that it’s all right to cry for those we love and lose.
  • Children and adolescents may be reluctant to express their thoughts and feelings verbally. Encourage them to express their grief and preserve their memories in a variety of ways, including art, music, journal writing, story-telling and picture collecting.
  • Let children and adolescents plan and participate in commemorative family rituals.

Tips for Helping Children and Adolescents in Grief (2)

(Video) How to Help Your Child Cope with Grief | Child Anxiety

  • Recognize that teens are already struggling with the enormous physical and psychological changes and pressures of adolescence. No longer children, but not yet mature adults, they still need adult supervision, guidance, and consistent, compassionate support.
  • Don’t deprive teens of their own need to mourn by pressuring them to “be strong” for a surviving parent, younger siblings or other family members.
  • Understand that teens don’t like to stand out and feel different from their friends; they want to belong, and normally turn to one another for support. But if a teen’s friends have never experienced the death of a loved one, it’s unlikely that they can fully understand what the bereaved adolescent is feeling or experiencing. Grieving teens do best when they’re helped to connect with other teens who’ve also experienced a death. (The Compassionate Friendsnow offers an online support groupon Facebookaimed at teens who've lost a sibling:Sounds of the Siblings.)
  • Assure adolescents that conflict in relationships between teens and adults is a normal part of growing up, and offer them every opportunity to vent their feelings about their relationship with the person who died. Teens striving to separate from authority figures and find their own identity normally feel somewhat alienated from parents, siblings, and other family members, and if a loved one dies during this turbulent time, they can be left with feelings of guilt and unfinished business.
  • Give teenagers permission not to be grieving all the time. If they’ve expressed their feelings and talked about the loss with others (family, friends, teachers and other helpers) it may not be useful for them to focus further on their loss. It’s not disloyal of them to want to put their grief aside and enjoy life again.
  • Be on the alert for signs that a teen may need extra help (depression; drastic changes in sleeping or eating habits; falling grades; substance abuse; sexual acting out; deteriorating relationships with family and friends).
  • Children and adolescents will cope only as well as the adults around them; helping yourself will help your children.
  • Alert significant adults in your child or adolescent’s life (family doctor, teachers, school counselor, caregivers, neighbors, relatives, friends) about the death in your family. Ask their help in keeping a watchful eye on your youngster, and ask for their additional support and understanding during this difficult time.
  • Consider enrolling your child or adolescent in a support program or summer camp for children and their families. Such groups are offered periodically throughout the year by hospices and other community agencies. (See, for example, Camp Erin: Grieving Camps for Children.)

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weeklyGrief Healing Newsletter.Sign up here.

Related Articles and Resources:

(Video) Helping Children with Grief, Loss and Trauma

Pin It

(Video) Children and Grief: Helping Your Child Cope with Loss


Tips for Helping Children and Adolescents in Grief? ›

Encourage your child to talk about his or her emotions. Suggest other ways to express feelings, such as writing in a journal or drawing a picture. Without overwhelming your child, share your grief with him or her. Expressing your emotions can encourage your son or daughter to share his or her own emotions.

How do you help kids who are grieving? ›

Here are some things parents can do to help a child who has lost a loved one:
  1. Use simple words to talk about death. ...
  2. Listen and comfort. ...
  3. Put feelings into words. ...
  4. Tell your child what to expect. ...
  5. Explain events that will happen. ...
  6. Give your child a role. ...
  7. Help your child remember the person.

How do adolescents deal with grief? ›

Tip: Try to put their emotional expression into context. Understand the wide range of emotions associated with grief and anticipate teens may be more likely to express emotions like anger than sadness. Try to be open, accepting, and validating of their emotions and make sure they know you're available to talk.

What are 3 strategies for coping with grief? ›

How to deal with the grieving process
  • Acknowledge your pain.
  • Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
  • Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
  • Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you.
  • Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.

How do you support a child who has lost a parent? ›

Below are some of the things you can do to help them through their grief and help them understand why they feel the way they do.
  1. Reassure them that it's not their fault. ...
  2. Understand that they haven't forgotten about it. ...
  3. Show them it's ok to be upset. ...
  4. Let them know that it's ok to have fun. ...
  5. Create stability.

What to say to a teenager who has lost a parent? ›

I'm so sorry to hear that your father has died” may be all you need to start your message. “You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers” will work if it's true. “I will miss your mother; she touched my life in so many ways” is a good opening for writing about ways that she touched your life.

Why is grieving difficult for teens? ›

Grieving is the teen's natural reaction to a death.

However, grieving does not feel natural because it may be difficult to control the emotions, thoughts, or physical feelings associated with a death. The sense of being out of control that is often a part of grief may overwhelm or frighten some teens.

How Losing a parent affects a teenager? ›

Bereaved teenagers experience worsened mental health, in- creased aggression, and an increased risk for self-harm. The research in this literature reviews, supports this, and further emphasizes the negative impact of losing a parent on teenagers mental health.

How do teenagers react to the death of a parent? ›

Common Reactions of Grieving Teens

Heaviness in the chest or tightness in the throat. An empty feeling in the stomach and a loss of appetite. Guilt over something said or done, or something left unsaid or undone. Anger and lashing out at others, sometimes at any time for no reason.

How does death affect a child emotionally? ›

Any death can be difficult for a child, and a wide range of emotional and behavioral responses are common including changes in sleeping pattern or appetite; sad, angry, or anxious feelings; social isolation; persistent thoughts about the death; or feeling the person's presence nearby.

What are some of the stages of loss and grief for children? ›

Helping Children To Cope With Divorce and Death: The 5 Stages of Grief
  • Denial. Denial is often characterized by such variant reactions such as avoidance, confusion, shock, and fear. ...
  • Anger. Once the denial and shock start to fade, the healing process begins. ...
  • Bargaining. ...
  • Depression. ...
  • Acceptance.
Dec 11, 2018

How does the death of a mother affect a son? ›

Children who experience parental loss are at a higher risk for many negative outcomes, including mental issues (e.g., depression, anxiety, somatic complaints, post-traumatic stress symptoms), shorter schooling, less academic success, lower self-esteem5, and more sexual risk behaviors6.

How do you prepare a child for the death of a grandparent? ›

8 guidelines for telling a child that a loved one is dying
  1. Prepare yourself. ...
  2. Be honest, and don't wait. ...
  3. Be thoughtful about who informs the child. ...
  4. Let the child's questions guide the conversation. ...
  5. Keep the age of the child in mind. ...
  6. Keep the lines of communication open. ...
  7. Seek support. ...
  8. Let your children be children.
Apr 15, 2019

What are at least 3 feelings a person might experience when going through the grief process? ›

People who have experienced loss may have a range of feelings. This could include shock, numbness, sadness, denial, despair, anxiety, anger, guilt, loneliness, depression, helplessness, relief, and yearning. A grieving person may start crying after hearing a song or comment that makes them think of the person who died.

How Losing a parent affects a teenager? ›

Bereaved teenagers experience worsened mental health, in- creased aggression, and an increased risk for self-harm. The research in this literature reviews, supports this, and further emphasizes the negative impact of losing a parent on teenagers mental health.

What is child traumatic grief? ›

Childhood Traumatic Grief is a condition in which children develop significant trauma symptoms related to the death of an attachment figure (e.g., parent or sibling) or another important person (e.


1. Helping Children and Youth Cope with Grief & Loss
(Kids Mental Health Pierce County)
2. How to comfort a grieving teen: Bridget Park at TEDxUniversityofNevada
(TEDx Talks)
3. Caring for Grieving Children & Teens Webinar
(Companions on a Journey)
4. Helping Children Navigate Grief and Loss
(Riverside Healthcare)
5. helping children & adolescents cope with grief & Loss
6. 3 Tips for Talking to Children, Adolescents, and Teens about Traumatic Grief
(From Grief to Growth)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Manual Maggio

Last Updated: 05/01/2023

Views: 6119

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Manual Maggio

Birthday: 1998-01-20

Address: 359 Kelvin Stream, Lake Eldonview, MT 33517-1242

Phone: +577037762465

Job: Product Hospitality Supervisor

Hobby: Gardening, Web surfing, Video gaming, Amateur radio, Flag Football, Reading, Table tennis

Introduction: My name is Manual Maggio, I am a thankful, tender, adventurous, delightful, fantastic, proud, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.