This widespread issue can impact children and adolescents in many different ways. Everyone’s grief is going to look different - The developmental age of the child and the type of death will further impact their individual grieving process. However, some typical reactions to the death of a loved one include:
-Emotions: Disbelief, sadness, anger, relief, guilt, fear, anxiety and curiosity
-Physical symptoms: Loss of appetite, headaches, insomnia, fatigue and upsetting dreams
-Behavior: Restlessness, hyperactivity, withdrawing, self-destructive behavior, acting out and difficulty concentrating
Many adolescents are left feeling alone as they navigate through the difficult emotions, physical symptoms and behaviors that typically accompany grief. Organizations such as The Shared Grief Project, aim to address the feelings of isolation that often accompany grief and loss by sharing personal stories from high-profile public figures who lost a parent at a young age.
As parents and school staff, we also have an opportunity to help students struggling with grief and loss feel less alone. Here are some things we can do to support our students:
-We can validate and normalize the feelings they are experiencing.
-We can help identify skills that support the coping process, such as journaling, exercise or spending time outdoors.
-We can provide ongoing support and communicate that we are there to listen when they are ready to talk.
-We can open the lines of communication between school and home to ensure the student is receiving the support they need.
-Finally, we can help provide additional support by sharing information about community resources that can help support individuals through the grieving process.
Grief is a complicated and messy journey that can make the normal struggles of adolescence even more difficult to manage. A caring adult is not going to make the pain of losing a loved one go away, but you’d be surprised at the power of a listening ear.
Stay Healthy, Chaps!
-Elizabeth Sterling, MSSW Intern