As a therapist that specializes in teens, I work with youth from various backgrounds, ethnicities and experiences. Recently I had the opportunity to run a group with teens that shared a similar experience: the loss of a loved one. This experience was profound and reminded me how resilient our children can be when faced with loss. It also reinforced my belief in group work and the value of being with others that have shared a similar experience, especially when it comes to the loss of someone close to you.
The youth in my group stated to me on numerous occasions that they appreciated the group and the opportunity to meet “other kids” going through a similar loss. While our children are resilient, they still need an opportunity to process their loss and to feel heard by those around them. A grief group can be a tremendous support for them.
I want to take a look at grief in teens and what you, as their caregiver, can provide them.
What is grief?
Grief is understood to be a normal reaction to loss and an essential part of dealing with loss, especially loss in death. When we discuss grief, it is important to understand that grief is universal and unique – every person will experience it at some time and every person will experience grief in his or her own way.
It is helpful to view grief as a process, a process the grieving person experiences over time. We use the term mourning to describe both our individual and collective reactions to loss, and it is seen in our traditions, religious and cultural responses, and personal experiences. We use the term bereavement to describe the state of having suffered a loss. (Terese Rando, 1984).
What does grief look like in children and teens?
Your child may show you how they feel through their behavior.
This may include:
- Becoming very quiet or becoming very talkative
- Acting out, acting disruptively or having temper tantrums
- Having a hard time playing with friends
- Having a hard time with schoolwork
- Clinging to you or other adults they trust
- Going back to old behaviors they’ve overcome, like wetting the bed
- Talking like the person they’ve lost is still present
- Acting like the person they’ve lost
- Worrying a lot about the future, their health and the health of their loved ones
- Carrying around pictures or items that remind them of someone they’ve lost
- Trying hard to look like they’re okay or normal
- In teens, risky behavior like turning to alcohol or other drugs and/or running away
If your teen is struggling with grief, you may want to consider counseling or group therapy to help them cope with their grief. Below is a list of a few Utah locations that offer grief therapy and books that are good references.
Utah Grief and Loss Support Groups for Children and Teens:
- Caring Connections: A Hope and Comfort in Grief Program, for more information and registration dates please call 801-585-9522.
Katherine P. Supiano, MS, LCSW, FT
Shawna Rees, Program Administrator
Mailing Address: University of Utah College of Nursing
10 South 2000 East
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-5880
- The Sharing Place, for more information and registration dates please call 801-466-6730
Address: 1695 East 3300 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84106
- The Bradley Center Family Counseling, for more information and registration dates please call 801-302-0220.
Mailing address is: PO Box 1115, West Jordan, UT 84084
Books for Children:
- Buscaglia, L. (1982). Fall of Freddie the Leaf. (Ages 5-10). Thoroughfare, NJ: C.B. Slack.
- Krementz, J. (1981). How it feels when a parent dies. (Ages 7-16). New York: Alfred A Knopf, Inc.
- La Tour, K. (1991). For those who live. (Sibling grief, ages 8-18). Omaha, NE: Centering Corp.
- Mellonie, B. & Ingpen, R. Life times (1983). (Ages 2+). New York: Bantam Books.
- Reagan, J. (2009). Always my brother. (Sibling loss). Gardinner, ME: Tilbury Press.
- Schwiebert, P. & DeKlyen, C. (1999) Tear soup. Portland, OR: Greif Watch.
- Vaughn Cole, B. (2002). James’ Story: Helping children cope with Loss due to Suicide. Available from Caring Connections: A Hope and Comfort in Greif Program: also available in Spanish 801-585-9522.
Books for Teens:
- Buckingham, R. & Huggard, S. (1993). Coping with grief. New York: Rosen Publishing Group Inc.
- Gravelle, K & Haskins, C (1989). Teenagers face to face with bereavement. Englewood, NJ: Juliana Messner.
- Linn-Gust, M. (2001). Do they have bad days in heaven?: Surving the suicide loss of a sibling. New York: Chellenhead Works.
- Scivani, M. (1991). When death walks in. Omaha, NE: Centering Corp.
- Vaughn Cole, B. (2006). But what about me? Loss and teen grief. Available from Caring Connections: A Hope and Comfort in Grief Program, 801-585-9522.
What have you found has helped you or your teen in recovering from grief and loss? Share your thoughts here.