Coping with a Traumatic Event: The Grieving High School Student
Parents, educators and other helping professionals often find themselves in the critical position of supporting kids in struggling with significant life changes, personal losses or the death of a parent/loved one. The grief resulting from these experiences can be defined as “the internal anguish bereaved persons feel in reaction to a loss they experienced.” It’s important to remember that kids grieve, too, and they may or may not “show it” outwardly to the rest of the world. What is most important is that we understand their varied responses and provide quality support to guide them through the process toward a healthy resolution.
What are common behaviors to expect?
- Withdrawal from parents and other adults
- Angry outbursts
- Increased risk-taking behaviors (substances, reckless driving, sexual behaviors)
- Lack of concentration, inattentiveness
- Pushing the limits of rules
- Lack of concentration, inability to focus
- Hanging out with a small group of friends
- Sad face, evidence of crying
What can you do to help your child?
- Allow for regression and dependency
- Encourage expression of feelings such as sorrow, anger, guilt, regret
- Understand and allow for variation in maturity level
- Answer questions honestly and provide factual information
- Model appropriate responses, showing the student your own grief
- Avoid power struggles and allow choices
- Help students understand and resolve feelings of helplessness
- Assist students with plans for completion of assignments
Common mistakes: Words and Actions to Avoid
The following words and actions can be harmful to children and teens:
- DO NOT suggest the student has grieved long enough
- DO NOT indicate the student should get over it and move on
- DO NOT expect the student to complete all assignments on a timely basis
- DO NOT act as if nothing has happened
- DO NOT say things like:
- “I know how you feel.”
- “You’ll be stronger because of this.”
When Should You Contact Your Doctor or Mental Health Professional?
About half of those that have experienced a traumatic event recover within three months without treatment. Sometimes symptoms do not go away on their own or they last for more than three months. This may happen because of the severity of the event, direct exposure to the traumatic event, seriousness of the threat to life, a history of past trauma, and psychological problems before the event. You may need to consider seeking professional help if your symptoms are severe enough during the first month to interfere a lot with your family, friends and job. If you suspect that you or someone you know has PTSD, talk with a health care provider or call your local mental health clinic.