When Your Teen is Grieving: Tips to Understand and Ease Their Pain

by Nancy Reynolds

This Post: When Your Teen is Grieving: Tips to Understand and Ease Their Pain

Written By: Jessica Manning

I consider grief counseling to be the most sacred part of my job as a high school counselor. I’ve suffered my own loss, and I understand that in my line of work, there is perhaps nothing more intimate than walking through grief with a teenager.

When Your Teen is Grieving: Tips to Understand and Ease Their Pain


An abundance of research on grief and teenage grief, in particular, exists, so my intent is not to inundate you with facts on the stages of grief. Instead, consider this as a heart-to-heart from someone who has many times observed and interacted firsthand with teens who have suffered loss.

When people think of grief, they often think of the death of a loved one. But your teen may face losses other than death that cause them to grieve. Be mindful of any major change in your teen’s life, such as divorce, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, a fizzling friendship, or a season-ending injury – all of which can prompt the grieving process. 

As a parent myself, I know how gut-wrenching it is to see your children unhappy and suffering. For those of you helping your children deal with the grief of loss, I send you my heartfelt empathy.

As you help your teen through this difficult time, here are a few insights to consider – especially for teens who have lost a loved one.

Need for Normalcy

Teenagers crave a sense of normalcy. And since it takes them time after a loss to develop a new normal, don’t be surprised if they want to go back to their “old normal” almost immediately. They might not understand that it’s okay to miss school, to be absent from practice, to skip church for a while, to avoid social gatherings, etc. Also, when teens suffer a loss, they cannot comprehend the significance of it the way you can. (They often think in black-and-white terms.) They simply haven’t lived enough life to fully comprehend what their loss means for them in the future. 

When your teen is grieving, try not to project how you would cope (or how you feel they should cope) onto them. And, make sure they know that what they’re feeling is normal and that you’re there for them if/when they want to talk.

If you’re also grieving, don’t take it personally if your teen avoids home. Seeing you sad and existing in the quiet of a grieving house hurts. Their desire for normalcy has little bearing on their level of sadness nor is it an indication of the depth of their love for the person they’re grieving.


Do any of us ever fully understand the meaning of life and death? I have my personal beliefs about eternity, but I still have so many questions. I have had to come to terms that my “why” questions about my mother’s death will never be answered while I’m here on Earth. I’ve been grieving for almost 20 years now, and I’m still perplexed.

Imagine being a teenager and trying to comprehend it. If your teen is asking repeated questions about their loved one, their loved one’s death, or the circumstances of it, just know they’re trying to process it all.

They might need you to retell stories or re-explain timelines. The more you withhold, the more confused they’ll be. Remain patient with them; they’re just putting it all together and trying to come to terms with their jolting new reality. Do tell them that there are some questions in life we may never have answers to.

Circle of Trust

Other teens will naturally be curious about your child’s loss. Your son or daughter will likely have to endure well-meaning (sometimes, insensitive) questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of their loved one.

To make things easier for them, I often encourage students to prepare a go-to line in response to questions. Something like, “I know you’re just wondering, but I don’t want to talk about it,” or “I’m not ready to discuss it,” are appropriate responses. 

Also, because your teen might feel awkward or be struggling with their grief, they may be more likely to share intimate details with people they aren’t that close to. Remind your kids that not everyone should be privy to the depth of their hurt. Encourage your children to divulge the details of their grief only to the ones they’re certain truly care and will be there for them when the dust settles.  

Enduring Sadness

You will grieve for your child, and it will hurt you immensely to see them hurting. But grief is a process and your teen needs this time (and space) to process their emotional pain. Expect their sadness to present itself in a variety of ways – apathy, agitation, anger, and lethargy – oftentimes, a myriad of ways that look like anything but sadness.

Remember that sadness is one of the most exhausting emotions, and many teens will do anything to avoid it. There is no quick fix to grief. I often tell my students that grieving is like having the stomach flu – you can try to ignore it and avoid it, but at some point, the only way to get over it is to go through it. So, encourage your teen to be good to themselves – carve out time for naps, eat well, relax when they can, and reach out to friends and family who offer comfort and support.

Utilize Experts

Teens have to be in just the right mood to have open-ended conversations about their grief. Through the years, I have learned that going through a curriculum with grieving teens is very helpful; it allows students to express themselves in a variety of ways without necessarily having to carry a conversation.

Thankfully, there are a lot of wonderful books that can be purchased to help families get through the grief process together. I’ve found it can be very helpful to give your teen a grief recovery handbook.

If you’re also grieving, setting time aside to go through a book together can help you keep tabs on your teen’s grief, because more than likely, your own grief is consuming. 

I also strongly encourage parents to initiate counseling or therapy for their teen, once some time has passed after a loss. Many teens will be averse to the idea, but setting up (at least) a few sessions will show your child that their emotions are worth expressing and that therapy is a healthy coping mechanism. 

Remind Them It Won’t Always Feel This Way

Instill hope in your teen that they will not always feel the way they do now. Some kids truly can’t developmentally look ahead and trust that things will feel better someday.

There will be a day when thoughts of their loved one bring a smile instead of tears. If they are willing to receive it, the most beautiful gifts can be gained through grief. Yes, it’s an extremely difficult process, but your teen will be filled with a certain wisdom about life unattainable to those who have not experienced significant sadness or loss.

Grief will impact how your teen lives and loves in a beautiful way, if they’re willing to face it head-on.

About Jessica Manning

Jessica is a high school counselor with over 20 years of experience working with teenagers. She earned an M.A. in school counseling and a B.A. in English and secondary education. Jessica is married to a high school principal and has three teenage boys; her current life revolves around all things teen. When not working or following her sons’ sporting events, Jessica appreciates any opportunity she gets to veg at home with her family and her dog, Phyllis. 


If you enjoyed reading, “When Your Teen is Grieving: Tips to Understand and Ease Their Pain,” here are a few other posts you might enjoy reading:

Dear Teens: I Know it’s Hard, But Not All Friendships are Meant to Last

Lost Love: Helping Your Teen Bounce Back After a Breakup

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Heather K. February 25, 2024 - 6:22 pm

I discovered you through IG. I appreciate all you share. I just ordered the Grief Recovery Handbook for my daughter struggling with a breakup. I’m also beginning divorce proceedings. I just wanted to say thank you

Nancy Reynolds February 25, 2024 - 7:05 pm

I’m so glad you found me and that you’re finding what I share helpful/insightful. I’m so sorry your daughter is going through a breakup… just as you are. My heart goes out to you both. I’m hopeful the Grief Recovery Handbook helps you both. What you’re going through is so difficult. Much love… Nancy xo


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