Navigating the tumultuous waters of grief and critical incidents can be challenging for anyone, but it can be particularly daunting when you're guiding a teenager through these experiences. Adolescence is a time of rapid change and emotional intensity, and when faced with loss or trauma, teens may struggle to process their emotions effectively. As a parent, caregiver, or guardian, your role is crucial in providing support and understanding during these difficult times. This resource aims to offer insights and strategies to help you engage in meaningful conversations with your teen about grief and critical incidents.

Understanding Teenage Grief

Teenagers experience grief in unique ways influenced by their developmental stage, personality, and past experiences. Understanding teenage grief is essential for supporting adolescents through critical incidents in the community or the death or illness of loved ones that may lead to feelings of grief. Adolescence is a period of significant emotional, social, and cognitive development. Teenagers may experience grief differently from adults due to their stage of development. They may have difficulty expressing their emotions, understanding the permanence of loss, or coping with changes in their identity and relationships.

Teenagers may then express grief in various ways, including sadness, anger, guilt, confusion, or withdrawal. Some may exhibit behavioural changes such as changes in eating or sleeping habits, academic difficulties, or risky behaviours. It's essential to recognize that there is no "right" or "normal" way to grieve, and every teen will cope differently. Some may withdraw and become quiet, while others may act out or seek constant distraction. Being attuned to your teen's individual needs and emotional cues is key to providing effective support. Teenagers may need guidance on self-care practices to help them cope with grief and maintain their overall well-being. Encouraging healthy habits such as exercise, relaxation techniques, creative expression, and spending time with supportive friends and family can help teenagers manage stress and navigate the grieving process.

Peers play a crucial role in the lives of teenagers, and peer support can be invaluable during times of grief. Teenagers may find comfort in talking to friends who have experienced similar losses or who can provide empathy and understanding. Peer support groups or counselling can provide a safe space for teenagers to express their feelings and share their experiences with others who understand. Family dynamics also significantly impact how teenagers experience and cope with grief. Changes in family roles, communication patterns, or routines can affect teenagers' sense of stability and security. It's essential for families to communicate openly, validate teenagers' feelings, and provide support and reassurance during difficult times.

Cultural and religious beliefs can influence how teenagers understand and cope with death and loss. It's important to respect teenagers' cultural and religious beliefs and practices and to provide opportunities for them to express and explore their beliefs as part of their grieving process.

Grieving is a process that takes time, and teenagers may need ongoing support and understanding as they navigate their grief journey. It's essential to be patient and compassionate, allowing teenagers to grieve at their own pace and in their own way while providing reassurance and support along the way.

Opening the Conversation:

Initiating a conversation about grief or a critical incident can be challenging. It's essential to create a safe and supportive environment where your teen feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings. Start by choosing a time and place that allows for privacy and uninterrupted conversation. Use open-ended questions to invite your teen to share their thoughts, such as "How are you feeling about what happened?" or "What's been on your mind lately?". However, some teens may not wish talk and in this scenario, it is advisable to leave the space open to talk rather than enforcing a discussion. In fact, forcing children, teens or adults to debrief or discuss events can inadvertently do more harm than good.

Active Listening

Listening is one of the most powerful tools you have in supporting your teen through grief. Practice active listening by giving your full attention, maintaining eye contact, and acknowledging their feelings without judgment. Avoid rushing to offer solutions or advice; instead, focus on validating their emotions and experiences. Reflective statements like "It sounds like you're feeling overwhelmed right now" can help your teen feel understood and supported.

Honor Their Unique Experience:

Every teen will respond to grief differently based on their individual personality, coping mechanisms, and relationship with the deceased or the incident. Avoid imposing your own expectations or assumptions about how they should feel or behave. Instead, validate their emotions and encourage them to express themselves in ways that feel authentic to them. Whether they prefer talking openly, journaling, or engaging in creative activities like art or music, support their chosen means of self-expression. Often it is helpful to provide voluntary opportunities to honour those who have passed, and activities for social engagement, distraction or both.

Addressing Misconceptions

Teens may hold misconceptions or fears about grief and critical incidents, which can hinder their ability to cope effectively. Common myths include the belief that showing emotion is a sign of weakness or that talking about the loss will only make things worse. Take the time to dispel these myths and provide accurate information about the grieving process. We can do this explicitly, through modelling, and through externalised self-talk. Assure your teen that their feelings are valid, and that seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Seeking Professional Help:

While it's natural for teens to experience ups and downs in their grief journey, persistent or severe symptoms may indicate the need for professional help. Keep an eye out for signs of prolonged depression, anxiety, or self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse or self-harm. Encourage your teen to talk to a school counsellor, psychologist, or trusted adult if they're struggling to cope. Remind them that seeking help is a proactive step toward healing and recovery. Some support lines are provided below.

Self-Care for Parents

Critical incidents in our community can take a toll on your own well-being, so it's essential to prioritise self-care. Make time for activities that replenish your energy and nourish your soul, whether it's spending time with loved ones, engaging in hobbies, or seeking support from friends or a support group. Remember that you can't pour from an empty cup, and taking care of yourself enables you to be a more effective source of support for your teen.

Navigating grief and critical incidents with a teenager requires patience, empathy, and open communication. By creating a safe and supportive environment, practicing active listening, and honouring your teen's unique experience, you can help them cope with their emotions and navigate the healing process. Remember that grief is a journey, and your ongoing support is invaluable in helping your teen find strength and resilience in the face of adversity.


Supporting a young person after exposure to traumatic event


Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Kids Helpline: 1800 5 1800

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Headspace: 1800 650 890


Alvis, L., Zhang, N., Sandler, I. N., & Kaplow, J. B. (2022). Developmental Manifestations of Grief in Children and Adolescents: Caregivers as Key Grief Facilitators. Journal of child & adolescent trauma, 16(2), 447–457.

Ross, A. M., Krysinska, K., Rickwood, D., Pirkis, J., & Andriessen, K. (2021). How best to provide help to bereaved adolescents: a Delphi consensus study. BMC psychiatry, 21(1), 591.

Szumilas, M., Wei, Y., & Kutcher, S. (2010). Psychological debriefing in schools. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne, 182(9), 883–884.