Adults supporting youth through crisis and loss

Youth need adults to support them through the grief of a crisis or losing a loved one.

Father holding a young boy's hand walking down the street.
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay.

On the news we see headlines of crisis situations such as school shootings, violence and natural disasters. But what is the outcome when these events happen in our community, school, family or 4-H club? It then becomes more personal and closer to home.

As parents, volunteers and community members, we instinctively want to reach out to those who experience a loss, whether it is natural or due to a crisis. The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement provides resources and support for schools, youth organizations, faith-based groups and others when children and families face times of crisis and loss. Their publication, “After a loved one dies,” provides thought-provoking tips and suggestions, such as:

  • Crying can be helpful. It’s okay to cry and be sad. Have tissues around and available, reinforce that everyone cries and that it is normal. When crying, feeling sad is where their emotional space is, so they feel better. The old “stiff upper lip” advice isn’t helpful for anyone and can be detrimental.
  • Remembering that it’s tough to talk at times. Young people might be afraid of hurting or upsetting the adults or others around them. Encourage space for conversation, whether it is in a car or on a walk. Middle school youth and teens might be more comfortable talking with friends. Keep the door open for conversation but show respect when they don’t want to talk about everything all at once.
  • Grow and keep creative spaces. Art, poetry, journaling, photography, music – whatever the venue  - the arts can be a clue to what is happening inside the young person. Therapists remind you not to jump to conclusions and that grief is a journey. So creative expression might be a therapeutic way to express grief.
  • Be present and share your feelings too. Let young people in your world and normalize that grief happens at all ages.
  • Provide emotional and physical safe spaces for youth. Teens need hugs and support as they cope too.

Seek out and connect with community bereavement support groups and organizations, such as mid-Michigan’s Ele's Place or Children’s Grief Center. An additional resource is the new 988 National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, which connects callers to trained counselors who will listen, understand how their problems are affecting them, provide support and connect them to local mental health resources if necessary.

Trauma and tragedies are a part of our lives, whether they have a direct impact on us or someone we know. We see them in our neighborhoods, in our communities and through social and media coverage. Michigan State University Extension encourages family members, mentors and community members to have the knowledge of local resources to help the families and youth we work with and offer guidance and support through challenging experiences.   

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