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Ages 13+

Concept of death

Most adolescents understand the concepts of death and dying. At this stage, adolescents are developing the ability to think about the world beyond the "here and now." They are able to have a richer, deeper understanding of emotions and are developing a greater sense of justice, fairness and other abstract ideas. This development of abstract thinking gives them the ability to grieve the loss of a loved one on multiple levels. Not only will they be grieving their loved one's death, but they will also recognize the future implications of this loss (their loved one won't be around for graduation, birthdays, etc.).

Ways they show stress

  • Moodiness
  • Changes in sleep habits (sleeping more or less)
  • Changes in eating habits (eating more or less)
  • Changes in academics (doing better/worse in school)
  • May regress in behavior (may stop doing chores, showering or doing self-care, may refuse to talk about the event as a way of denying the reality, may throw temper tantrums or demonstrate more emotional swings than usual)

Ways they cope

  • May feel uncomfortable talking about their feelings and may prefer to discuss death with someone other than their parent, such as a friend or trusted adult
  • May choose to spend time on their own
  • May immerse themselves in physical activity, hobbies, schoolwork, etc.
  • May try to pretend all is normal

How to talk to them

  • Welcome their questions
  • Be clear and honest in all you share
  • Use clear language (don't be afraid to use terms "death" or "dying") and avoid terms like "passed away," "gone home," or "went to sleep" to avoid confusion between a temporary absence and a permanent one
  • Validate their emotions and encourage healthy expressions of concerns and feelings – anger is okay, destruction is not
  • Be available; don't force communication, but keep the lines of communication open

How to provide support

  • Encourage them to identify peers or other trusted adults that they can reach out to
  • Be honest and clear when answering their questions; if you don't know the answer to a question, admit it
  • Resist adding extra burdens or stress like "You're the man of the house now" or "You need to be strong to help your siblings"
  • Model healthy coping behaviors (talking with someone about loved one and what you love about them, meditating, exercise, religious practices, etc.) and creative ways of expression (artwork, coloring, writing a letter or journaling, writing poetry/songs, etc.)
  • Allow regressive behavior but help adolescents learn to be aware of, and avoid, impulsive behaviors

Activities to help with coping

  • Encourage communication with trusted friends/adults
  • Allow teen to participate in memorial services, giving them choices about their involvement in the service
  • Assist teen in creating a memory box
  • Allow teen to choose, and keep, a familiar article of clothing or pillowcase of the loved one who died (familiar scents can be comforting)
  • Celebrate holidays with familiar traditions, such as visiting a special place or making a favorite meal
  • Encourage child's participation in memorial activities to honor and remember their loved one

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