Young people are already dealing with lots of stresses in their life, including changing hormones and important exams. It’s one of the reasons why coping with the death of someone close to them can be particularly hard.
On this page, we’re sharing advice to help you make sure they’re getting the support they need. Whether you’re a parent looking for more ways to be there for your child, or a friend looking to support someone they love, we’re here to help.
There are no rules for how long grief lasts or what it feels like, and each young person’s grieving process will be individual to them and the circumstances surrounding their bereavement.
If you’re a parent trying to support your child as they navigate through their grief, here is some advice about what to consider:
Teenagers are at a stage in their development where they are trying to find and establish their own identity. This can mean family relationships and beliefs are challenged, and a significant bereavement at this time can cause a major upheaval in how they view the world.
Young people may experience strong feelings of regret and anger following the death of someone close to them, especially if they weren’t able to say goodbye, or if choices were taken away from them. They may also experience feelings of guilt if they decided not to visit the person who died. In these instances, try to reassure them that nothing they did or said caused this to happen and that there was nothing they could have done to change things.
Sometimes young people can feel resentful that their lives have been affected by what has happened, and this can cause intense feelings of guilt. If you have a difficult relationship with them, they may even feel that the wrong parent or carer has died, and you may find that this anger is directed towards you instead. Try to encourage them to find someone they can talk to about these feelings, even if that person isn’t you. For example, this might be a friend of yours or another family member, or they might have a teacher at school that they trust and feel able to talk to. If you find it difficult to have these conversations with them, remind them that they aren’t the reason why you’re crying and explain that your tears and sadness are a normal part of grieving.
Some young people might try to seek ways to control or numb emotions that become too intense. This could include drinking alcohol or taking drugs, which may mean they end up in situations where they are vulnerable. For example, they may feel that they want to harm themselves, or not want to listen to what you say or do.
In those moments, they need someone they can trust and be honest with, without feeling judged. As we’ve mentioned above, this could be a family member, one of your friends or someone at their school. Or, you may decide to seek more specialist support from a bereavement counsellor instead.
It’s also important to be aware that young people can experience the same signs of depression as adults. While feeling low in mood, withdrawing from those around them and losing interest in doing activities or seeing friends can be a normal part of the grieving process, it can also be a sign of depression if it goes on for too long. If you are worried, try speaking to your GP about your concerns and about getting support.
Lastly, try to remind your loved one that it’s ok to be happy, laugh and have fun when someone has died. This doesn’t mean that they have forgotten the person, and they don’t need to feel guilty for feeling that way. Their grief is just the same, however, their life is growing around their grief and that’s perfectly OK.
Their chance to say goodbye
It’s important to try and give young people a choice about attending the funeral. Funerals are often family events and they may feel excluded and isolated if they didn't get the choice to attend, and they may feel like they have missed the opportunity to say goodbye.
If they don’t feel comfortable attending the funeral, or refuse to go and then show signs of regretting their decision, you could try suggesting that they write down how they’re feeling in a message to the person who has died. This could be a letter, a poem, or something shorter, but it gives them the chance to express how they feel and say goodbye. They can then decide what to do with it once they’ve written it.
Sometimes, you might find that they try to step into new roles following their bereavement, particularly if the person who died was their parent, carer, or older sibling. This could be because they feel that there is an expectation on them to do so or because they have been told by others that they should.
Try to remind them that they don’t need to do this. If they are worried about financial issues, or how the bereavement will impact their family, encourage them to talk about these anxieties either with you or another trusted adult.
Often, young people are at a stage in their lives where they talk to their parents or carers less, in favour of their friends. And while it is true that young people can be very supportive when one of their friends is coping with bereavement, it’s also true that sometimes this can be short-lived.
Even friends who are supportive can quickly move on to the ‘next big thing’ or issue in their own lives, forgetting that their friend is still grieving and still needs support. And this can leave your child feeling very isolated.
Sometimes, they might also feel like they need to downplay their grief in order to still fit in with the rest of their friends. Or, they might sense that death is awkward for their friends to talk about, and therefore they may avoid bringing it up. This can also leave them feeling really lonely, at a time when they need the support.
When someone first dies, you may find your memories of them are dominated by the end of their life. However, over time happier memories will become stronger again. This is why it can help young people to talk about the person who has died, and share their memories with friends or family members. You may want to suggest creating a memory box, so that they can always return to it when they need to.
The person at school who knows the young person best tends to be their form tutor, and it may be that this teacher is someone they trust and feel comfortable speaking to. The Head of Year at your child’s school is also responsible for making sure that everyone who teaches a young person knows what support they need, so speaking them is a good way to make sure all the teachers know your teenager’s situation.
Some schools may also have learning mentors or pastoral support staff who can offer support. This can vary from area to area, so it’s a good idea to check in with your school to see what’s available.
All schools should have some form of counselling available to their students, although it is not always easy or possible to access this. Where counselling is available in schools, the service is normally promoted to students, who can often refer themselves. If the school knows what is happening, they may approach the young person and offer to refer them. You can ask the school what the process is.
If counselling is not available through the school, you can also contact your GP to find out what other support is available.
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 so you may already have an idea of things you could do. But if you’re looking for some advice, or want to check you’re on the right track, here are some tips to help you support a friend when they’re grieving:
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 how they’re feeling 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 what has happened, and for the difficult time they’re going through. Acknowledge that although you can’t take their pain away, you’re there for them, and 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 to talk about them. But try to follow your friend’s lead. If they want to talk about their bereavement, or the person who has died, try to be open to it. And if you’re not sure what to say, we’ve got advice to help.
Invite them to do things
Grief can be unpredictable, and how you feel on one day can be completely on another. For example, you might find that you don’t want to socialise or talk to anyone initially, but then you might find that staying busy helps you to cope.
This is why it’s important to keep inviting your friend to do things with you. They may not always say yes, but they’ll know you’re thinking of them each time you ask.
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. Try to just be open to how they’re feeling now.
Keep checking in
Over time, it can feel like you’re able to cope with your grief in a better way. But your friend may have moments 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 death, it can be 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.
Help them find support
If you think your friend needs extra help to cope with their grief, you could recommend these resources for them to look through. If they need urgent help right now, they can text SHOUT to 85258 and talk to them for free 24/7 about anything, or they can call Samaritans any time on 116 123 for a free, confidential chat.
Looking after yourself
Supporting someone 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 family members or friends who can help support them, you could try to coordinate things so you’re not taking on too much.
You may also worry that you are not ‘doing it right’ or are somehow making things worse but remember that you are trying your best. If you find that you're struggling with your own grief, you might find it useful to look through our free online bereavement services and information.