Overcoming the Perfect Storm: Helping Teens with Grief

Teenage problems, Mother comforting her sad teenage daughter at

“For those of you with teenagers… I call these folks my silent grievers.  These are the ones that grieve and most of the time we don’t know they are grieving until it is too late.” – Kent Allen

We are grieving, our children are grieving and we just want desperately to fix it all.  We are plunged into the depths of a perfect storm with no resources to help us cope.  We feel desperate and alone and helpless.  This is how I felt the first few months after my husband died until I attended a grief conference and listen to a grieving counselor talk to us about teens grieving.  I left with resources and information that gave me hope for the future.  I came home and went to work implementing my new tools, and I began to see a transformation in my family.

The first simple truth that I learned changed how I viewed my children’s grief after the death of their dad…

Children grieve differently than Adults.

For some reason, it never occurred to me that they would not grieve the way that I was grieving.  For the first few months, this lack of understanding caused all sorts of conflicts and misunderstandings in our family.  Experience has taught me that children do not grieve on the same timeline, for the same amount of time, or at the same time as adults.  Unfortunately, all of these varying patterns of grief can combine together to create a perfect storm in the family.

Once I understood this principle, I was determined to break through the clouds and save my family.  Understanding, patience, communication and empathy have done just that.  Here are some of the things that helped us.  Hopefully this will begin to shed a little light on your stormy situation.

Typically, young people do no like to grieve.  They don’t want to feel the feelings, they don’t want to be sad, they don’t want life to change and they don’t want to be different from their peers.

They strive for a normalcy.

They will put on a happy face and jump back into life.  They will go back to school and push out the bad thoughts, and memories and pretend that everything is just fine.

My son who was a junior went back to school the day after his dad died.  I couldn’t keep him home.  2 Months after my husband’s death we went on a Disney Cruise as a family.  None of my children told the friends they made or their adult leaders that their dad and grandpa had just died.  In contrast, I felt compelled to tell everyone that I met.  My children were embarised by my openness.  They thought it showed very little respect for dad.  I saw things very differently, and couldn’t understand how they could just pretend everything was normal.  I wanted to talk about their dad, and they wanted to avoid the subject at all cost.  Tension and emotions were very high and volatile in our family.

Kent Allen told us that this behavior was the norm.  He did caution that children who are present at the death of a parent or at the accident, will grieve differently than those who are not.  I remember hearing this and feeling a sense of relief.  We weren’t as crazy and disjointed as I was beginning to think!

Grades at school are going to drop.

Children feel just as muddled in the head as we do, they have difficulty concentrating so it is very normal for grades to drop in the first few months after the death of a parent. However, I should be concerned and get help if they begin to isolate themselves.

Another principle I learned shocked me, but prepared me for the future…

Children grieve harder after the first year.

So during the first year, adults do a large part of their grieving.  They feel at odds with their children who appear to show little sadness. As adults begin to get on the other side of their grieving, somewhere beyond the first year, then the children begin to grieve.  At this point adults resent that their children’s behavior is triggering them back into grieving.


A widow friend of mine shared her personal experience that I thought was helpful.


My mom died when I was 17, my dad a few years later, and I am on this site so obvously I am aquanted with grief. Here are my thoughts on the second year from the perspective of a teenager….

The first year you are dealing with death, you get a lot of support and attention with everybody in the world holding you up.  The second year you wake up to the fact that this is not going to end.  It’s not going to get better, you aren’t going to quit hurting, you can’t remember the sound of their voice any more, they missed every thing that happened for a whole year, and you are mad that no body understands why this is hurting so bad. You don’t really understand why it hurts so bad now, and you wonder, “why now?” In the second year people have gotten back to there own lives, they figure you have made it through all those firsts, and you are much more on your own. Also the spirit you may have felt in the beginning is not so present.  You are not as spiritualy desprite so attention to scriputes and prayer have slowed. So you end up farther from the spirit and support of friends, but you still miss your dad or mom.

I found focusing on kindiling the scriptures, prayers, and uplifting experences to be helpful. As a parent you can help them understand that dealing with grief does not have a time limit.



Children can also grieve more than once.

I remember the first time my baby slept through the night.  I though, “I’m so glad that I’m done with walking up at nights!”  Little did I know that when he cut his first tooth, he would digress.  Grief works this way in our children’s lives and in our own.  Grieve episodes can return.  If you are prepared for that, then you will be less likely to be caught off guard or to miss warning signs.

Now that I knew what was normal, I still needed help coping with the storm. Check out the post 12 Ways to Help Teens Get through Grief to see some of the ideas that Kent shared along with few of my own that have helped me to get 4 teens through grief.

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