It’s quite possible that teens may have to grieve for one reason or another throughout their adolescence. Their parents might go through a divorce. They might experience a major relationship breakup. There might be a death in the family, and lastly, a friend might commit suicide or die suddenly in an accident. It’s possible that your teen might have to go through a period of grieving, and if this is the case, perhaps as parents you might want to know how to best support your child.
If grieving and bereavement go untreated, it can lead to significant impairment in a teen’s life. For this reason, finding a psychologist or therapist to work your teen is essential for recovery. Alongside this is an opportunity to talk about grieving with your teen. You may want to do read about grief and loss yourself, and then share what you find with your teen. In this way, you communicate to your child that you’re there with them as he or she grieves.
One popular theory in the treatment of grief is the four steps developed by psychologist J.W. Worden. He theorized that the four tasks to grieving are accepting the reality of the loss, working through the pain of grief, adjusting to life without the deceased (or loss), and maintaining a connection to the deceased (or loss) while moving on with life. These stages are listed below:
- Accept the reality of the loss – The task for a teen at this stage is to come to terms with the fact that there has been a loss. After moving through shock, denial, and disbelief, the first stage of grieving, according to Worden is to find acceptance that the loss is a reality in one’s life.
- Work through the pain of grief – Once an adolescent can accept the fact that there’s no reversing what has happened, there are some accompanying emotions that will be difficult to face. However, this is the very undertaking that an individual must face. Worden suggests that there is natural process for working through these difficult emotions. Although it is challenging, basic self-care is essential during this stage. It is also highly recommended that the support of a mental health professional be included during this, if not all, of these stages.
- Adjust to life without the deceased (or relationship) – Eventually, a teen will move on with his or her life. An adolescent might feel guilty about moving forward and pursuing life activities without the deceased, parents, or boyfriend/girlfriend. This stage might involve learning new skills in order to carry on with life. However, this stage is also a time for development, growth, and independence.
- Maintain a connection to the deceased (or relationship) while moving on with life – This stage is a bit like finding a normal life again. Some teens might call it, a “new normal”. It’s not the same as it was before the loss, but now that the process of grieving is coming to an end life is finding balance again.
The process of grieving is not linear. Whether working with the stages developed by Worden, knowing them can serve as a map of the challenging road that grieving presents. By knowing them, you can facilitate these steps in your teen. It’s best, however, to also have your child work with a therapist or psychologist. By feeling supported, your teen is more likely to move through the stages of grief without any psychological harm.
It’s also important to remember that from time to time your child may want to be alone in his or her grief. Yet, as long as your child knows that he or she can come to you when needed, this sort of companionship can facilitate the healing process.