How to support a young person who is grieving
If you know a young person who has lost a family member or someone they care about, you may be unsure how best to support them. These tips will help you learn more about grief, and what you can do to show you’re there for them.
The death of a loved one is among the toughest things any of us go through. Losing a parent, relative or friend when you’re young can be life-changing and profoundly difficult.
By being there for a young person through their grief, you can make a huge difference. You may not be able to take away their pain, but you can show them they’re not alone and that people around them really care about them. This can make coping with loss a little easier.
This page is for young people who want to support a young friend or family member through loss. If you’re an adult helping a young person through grief, we have advice and support for you.
What grief feels like
It’s impossible to give a single description of what grief is like, since each person’s experience of it is different.
Most people go through intense emotions, including deep sadness, emotional pain, shock, anger, regret and anxiety. Sometimes people appear not to be upset, when in fact they’re numb because the emotions they’re feeling are so overwhelming.
For young people especially, these feelings can be a lot to process. The grieving person may feel lost and confused at times, so letting them know you’re there for them can really help.
There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve. People’s feelings may change over time and even from hour to hour. They may be laughing and joking one minute, and crying the next.
It may seem like the person is ‘over it’ sometimes, but grief will still be with them and it can appear suddenly. It can take years to come to terms with a loss, and they’ll have good days and bad days.
See the answers to some common questions about grief
How they might be feeling
They may have a lot to process
If your friend’s loved one was very ill, they might be carrying painful images from that time. They may have happy or poignant recollections too. If they were with the person when they died, they’ll have memories of their final moments. While death can be painful and traumatic, it can also be peaceful. So be open to your friend’s experience, whatever it is.
They could be in shock
If the person’s death was sudden or didn’t happen in the way your friend expected, they could be coping with shock. They may feel that their world has changed suddenly and completely. They may have feelings of guilt or regret that they weren’t able to say goodbye.
Loss can feel isolating
When you’re the only person in your friendship group who’s suffered a major loss, it can feel really isolating. Your friend might be self-conscious and feel like they’re the ‘odd one out’. Or they may think they need to be happy and fun all the time, when that’s not how they feel.
They may be worried about family
If one of their relatives has died, the person might be worried about other family members and how they’re coping. As well as processing their own grief, they may have new caring responsibilities – for siblings, parents or grandparents – now that the person is no longer there.
Grief can come out in other ways
Emotions around grief are complicated, and sadness can often come out in other ways. Your friend may behave in a way that’s more angry, flippant or reckless than usual. Or they may put on a tough front to hide how they’re really feeling. If you’re worried about their safety, tell a teacher, tutor, parent or another adult.
It’s not about ‘getting over it’
The person who has died will always be part of your friend’s life. They may still think of them often, and that can be a comfort. When someone loses a loved one it’s not about ‘moving on’ or ‘getting over’ the loss, but about learning to live with a new reality.
What you can do to help
There are lots of ways to show your support for someone who’s grieving, and what each person needs will be different. You know your friend best, and may already have ideas of things you could do. The following suggestions are things people have told us helped them.
Make time to talk
One of the most important things you can do is to give your friend time and space to speak about how they’re feeling. Ask if they want to talk about it, and really listen. If they don’t want to share right now, let them know you’re there for them if they ever do.
Acknowledge how tough it is
Let your friend know how sorry you are for their loss, and for the difficult time they’re going through. Acknowledge that although you can’t take their pain away, you’re there for them. Ask if they’re happy for you to keep checking in about how they’re doing.
Try not to feel awkward
Death and grief are often seen as taboo subjects, so it can feel difficult talking about them. But try to follow your friend’s lead – if they want to talk about their loss, or the person who has died, try to be open to it. If you’re not sure what to say, you could ask gentle questions.
Invite them to do things
When someone is grieving they may find socialising more difficult, or they may find that staying busy and active helps them cope. So keep inviting your friend to do things with you, and find out what works for them. They may not always say yes, but they’ll know you’re thinking of them.
Don’t create expectations
It’s impossible to predict what each person’s experience of grief will be like. Try not to set any expectations around when things will get easier, or how they’ll feel at a particular time. Just be open to how they’re feeling now.
Keep checking in
For most people grief gradually gets easier to cope with over time. But your friend may have times when their feelings become more intense again months or years later. Special days like birthdays and Christmas can be especially hard too. Even if they seem fine, they may still be struggling. Keep checking in and let them know you’re still ready to listen.
Think before you speak
When talking about loss, it’s easy to upset people without meaning to. If your friend is upset by something you’ve said, don’t be hard on yourself. Just try to understand why they found it difficult, so you know for the future. See these tips on things to say and things to avoid.
Help them find support
If you think your friend needs extra help to cope with their grief, you could recommend these support groups, counselling services, podcasts and resources. If they need urgent help right now, they can text SHOUT to 85258 and talk to them for free 24/7 about anything, or call Samaritans any time on 116 123 for a free, confidential chat. For more options, see our crisis support page.
Looking after yourself
Supporting a friend who is grieving can be a lot to deal with emotionally. While it’s important to be there for them, remember to take care of your own needs too. If you have other friends who can help support them, you could try to coordinate things so you’re not taking on too much.
For free advice on supporting a friend through loss, you can contact Grief Encounter.