Supporting Children in Grief as a Clinician: Teens (13 to 18 years)

We hear a lot from folks about how they don’t know what to say or do for kids and teens when someone has died. Many folks are also unsure if a child is grieving “right.” Check out the tips below that can help you gain a better understanding of what grief looks like for children 13 to 18 years of age, what you can say to them to help, and how their grief looks different than an adult’s.

Common Grief Reactions

  • Teens may question their identity after the death, and can be confused by their vulnerability
  • Teens may look to peers for validation
  • To avoid “upsetting” adults, they may keep quiet and to themselves
  • Isolation may be a grief reaction at this age
  • Reunification fantasies are a common and normal reaction that does not mean they wish to die
  • Teens can be impacted by new responsibilities
  • May remain numb in order to keep functioning as usual
  • Can be tired or restless, have difficulty concentrating, or express somatic complaints

Appropriate ways to speak with a grieving child

  • Offer non-judgmental comfort and support
  • Answer big questions with honesty
  • Use active listening more than speaking
  • Refrain from saying “I know how you feel” or statements with “at least”
  • Provide space for self-reflection, and also check-in

Activities

  • Journal feelings
  • Plan together ways to memorialize their loved one
  • Create a memory box/book/poster
  • Write a letter to the deceased
  • Celebrate their loved one by eating a food that they liked, listening to music they enjoyed, or doing an activity they liked together

Things to Remember

  • Adolescent grief is informed by culture, religion and race
  • Maintain curiosity about the child’s experience in grief
  • There are no “5 Stages”; grief is a non-linear process
  • Grief and grieving changes over time, “re-grieving” can happen at important times if the loss was an early one

A Message from The Jewish Board

If you or someone you love lives in the New York metropolitan area and need help coping with grief and loss, we can help. Call us at 1.844.ONE.CALL to speak with an intake specialist. You can also contact our Loss and Bereavement Team by emailing griefsupport@jbfcs.org, calling 212.632.4692, or filling out our referral form.