Grief & Loss

When children experience grief and loss, parents and carers want to care for and nurture them in ways that will lovingly support young people in their grieving. Firstly, it's important to recognise that children and adolescents will experience and react to grief in their own unique ways.

An adolescent’s grief can be impacted by any number of things including but not limited to, their unique relationship with the person, how the person died, their support system, past experiences with death, and their own unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with stress, adversity, and high emotion. Adults seeking to support an adolescent should try to remember that a wide range of responses are considered ‘normal’ and there’s no one formula for providing support.

Fortunately, conventional wisdom says the best way to support a grieving adolescent is to ‘companion’ them, which is just a fancy way of saying be there for them which you, as parents and carers, already know how to do. You can ‘companion’ a teen by supporting them, talking openly and honestly, listening, allowing them to grieve how they want, and allowing them to decide how they will cope (with the exception of self-destructive behaviours).

It’s important to emphasise the above because at the end of the day the best advice will always be to walk with the adolescent through their grief while still honouring our responsibilities as parents to draw limits, provide guidance, and set a good example.

What’s Your Grief advises for children of any age you do the following:

  • Acknowledge their presence, their importance, their opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Be patient and open-minded. Allow them to grieve in their own way.
  • Be available – sit with the child, listen to them, and answer their questions.
  • Let them know that a range of different emotions is normal.
  • Validate their feelings and do not minimise them.
  • Check in with other adults involved in their life – teachers, school counsellors, coaches.
  • Find age-appropriate resources.

For many children, this may be their first experience with death. For significant relationships, children may come to define their lives in terms of ‘before’ the death and ‘after’ the death. After a death, adolescents may experience the following for the first time:

  • End of life rituals and etiquette: Many children have yet to attend a funeral or memorial service well into their teen years. Rituals and etiquette may cause anxiety for adolescents, especially if they don’t know what to expect or how to act. Additionally, teens may be uncomfortable with the feeling of being watched as everyone observes them to see how they’re coping. Talk about what, if any, elements they would like to be a part of and what, if any, they can opt out of. Encourage them to participate but don’t force.
  • Emotions: For adolescents who have little experience with trauma, death, pain, or stress, this will be the first time they experience the overwhelming emotions related to grief. This can be frightening and many don’t have the self-awareness to know what types of coping strategies will help. Normalise the range of emotions grievers are likely to experience. Prepare them for shifts in emotion and give them permission to laugh and feel happy when they feel like it. Help them brainstorm coping strategies based on their personality and strengths. Offer options such as counselling, journaling, and workbooks, but don’t push.
  • Big Questions: When faced with the death of a person, particularly if it is an unexpected death or the death of a young person, some teens may begin to ponder the deeper questions: "Why did this happen?" "What does death mean?" "What do I understand about the purpose of life?". You can support your child by:
    • being open to conversations about these topics
    • sharing your beliefs and thoughts
    • seeking out support from members of your church or community who might be able to talk these concepts through with your teen.
    Experiences of grief and loss may be a time when teens begin to question and challenge what they believe and understand about life, and a parent/carer's willingness to support them during this process is so important.

We follow the expert advice from the Be You National Postvention Team. When a suicide occurs in a school community, it is best practice to have a coordinated and planned response known as a ‘postvention plan’. A postvention plan enables students, staff and the wider school community to return to regular routine as soon as possible. Consistency and predictability of the routine can be settling for the individual in a complex, difficult and unpredictable time. We partner with key agencies to maximise the response to our community.

Some may perceive this as being disrespectful to the student or the family but a school’s response comes from a place of care and love and an understanding of the complexity of the suddenness and shock experienced, perceptions of preventability and the difficulty understanding why the person ended their life.

Our aim of the next few weeks is to focus on the importance of:

Check In
Head of House and Pastoral Care/Homeroom Teachers encourage safe conversations and remind students of help seeking behaviours and support available within the school, the community and online. Students are reminded to check in with How I am Feeling Today in Pulse (Wednesdays and Fridays). Key staff are alerted if a student indicates ‘I need some help’.

Teenagers often look to their peers for support when times are tough, so we encourage our students to connect with friends in a safe environment. We remind students that putting time into relationships can help them feel connected, boost their energy and, ultimately, help them keep a healthy headspace.

Self Care
We share the importance of self care as a coping strategy so they are physically and mentally healthy. We remind the students the importance of nutrition, movement and sleep health on our brain and mental health. We encourage our students to continue to participate in enjoyable activities, such as sports or hobbies, and try to maintain routines as much as possible.

  • Exercise regularly - it reduces stress and is a great way to improve physical and mental health.
  • Schedule in down time - block out time for you.
  • Unplug - make time each day to turn off your phone, log-out of your email, step away from the computer and go outside and be present.
  • Get plenty of sleep - sleep helps the brain function properly, without it, you may have trouble making decisions and solving problems.
  • Eat well - eating well is one of the best forms of self-care.

We encourage our students to be kind to themselves and their peers.

Teachers and school staff will connect with students and check in on them regularly. They will let them know that they are available to listen. When teens are listened to and supported, they are more likely to be open about their needs and discuss options for further help.

Maintain normal routines as much as possible
Routines and structure provide some certainty and comfort to students, which is often lost temporarily during a traumatic event. It can be a comforting experience for young people as they know what to expect and they can feel in control. We encourage our students to return to school and engage in learning experiences.

Encourage healthy conversations
Teens often want answers about why a suicide has occurred, and this can lead them to blame the death on a specific event or person. We explain that suicide isn’t simple and is often the result of a range of contributing factors. We encourage our students to understand that grief is complex and how we experience an event will be different. We encourage healthy online behaviours and we support and encourage students to develop positive ways to handle tough times to increase their resiliency.

Encourage help-seeking
We encourage students to seek help. Our students are reminded of the support options available. This will allow them to choose a person they feel comfortable with and increases the likelihood that they will ask for support. Options for support could be a family member or trusted adult, such as a teacher or school counsellor.

Conversations Matter
Conversations Matter offers free online resources to support safe and effective conversations about suicide.

headspace is the National Youth Mental Health Foundation. Headspace supports young people with mental health, physical health, alcohol and other drug services, as well as work and study support. With a focus on early intervention, we work with young people to provide support at a crucial time in their lives – to help get them back on track and strengthen their ability to manage their mental health in the future. The headspace website offers free resources for young people between the ages of 12 and 25 years old.

Lismore headspace Office
Students can access support from the Lismore headspace office. Students can call the Lismore centre and the 'duty roster' staff member can talk to the student for a single session and help them with their next steps or just have a chat. Students can call and ask to talk to the duty roster person between 9am to 3pm only. Students can arrange to have an intake session face to face, over the phone or by zoom. They can have their appointments with Lismore headspace staff via zoom.
Phone 02 6625 0200

Free online counselling for young people aged 12 and 15 years via phone or online. The first step to access this support is to create an account.

Grief Line
Griefline supports anyone experiencing grief, facing any type of loss, providing access to free telephone and online support services and resources. You can encourage your child to use the service or you could ring them for advice.
Phone 1300 845 745

A social and emotional wellbeing self-help app for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 15 years and over. iBobby is specifically designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who are feeling sad and down.

Kids Helpline
Kids Helpline is Australia’s free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25 years old.
Phone 1800 55 1800
Email a Kids Helpline Counsellor

Mental Health Access Line
The Mental Health Access Line is a NSW Health service staffed by mental health professionals. This service gives NSW residents access to expert mental health advice, support and referrals. Where appropriate they can put you in contact with the local mental health crisis or acute care team.
Phone 1800 011 511

My Circle
A free, private, safe and confidential social platform for 13 to 25 year olds. My Circle lets you talk to others going through challenges too. You can share your thoughts, get helpful info, and lots more. My Circle is supported by Kids Helpline counsellors and lets you talk to other young people going through challenges.

Parent Line is a free telephone counselling and support service for parents and carers with children aged 0 to 18 years old who live in NSW.
Phone 1300 1300 52

QLife provides Australia-wide anonymous, LGBTI peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including identity, gender, feelings and relationships. QLife services are free and include both telephone and webchat support delivered by trained LGBTI community members across the country from 3pm-midnight everyday. Services are available for LGBTI individuals, their friends and families, and health professionals in Australia. QLife is funded by the Australian Government and operates as a unique partnership model.
Phone 1800 184 527

Reach Out is a free online coaching service for parents and carers to help create clarity and increase confidence to support your teen through a tough time.

R U OK? is a harm prevention charity that encourages people to stay connected and have conversations that can help others through difficult times in their lives. RUOK? offers free resources for students, both primary and secondary, to learn how to support their peers and talk about how they feel is an important life lesson, so where better to start than in the classroom? These resources for primary, secondary and tertiary educators and institutions will help students everywhere start a conversation.

The Family Centre
The Family Centre offers a range of Youth Mental Health support, Parenting advice and support. THe Family Centre has locations in Ballina, Ocean Shores, Murwillumbah and Tweed Heads.
Phone 02 6686 4109 (Ballina)

13YARN ensures Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people who are feeling overwhelmed or having difficulty coping can receive culturally safe and appropriate health services where and when they are needed 24/7
Phone 13 92 76