Supporting teenage and young adult siblings with grief

Sibling relationships are unique. The bond between siblings is like no other. This means if they die, it can be very hard to cope with the grief. Here we talk you through some of the ways teenagers and young people grieve and how you can support them.

How teenagers and young adults grieve

The overwhelming emotions of grief can feel even more intense for young people. They will not always have the tools adults use to express their grief or cope with it. Some seek security and will become more childlike for comfort. Others will try to grow up quickly and be the adult.

Feelings of anger, anxiety and guilt can all be part of the grieving process.

If you are very worried about their welfare, speak to one of these organisations for advice.

Common symptoms of grieving

You may notice several changes in the behaviour of teenagers and young people when they are grieving. They might bottle up their emotions and become distant or they could struggle to control their feelings and get angry. As they try to cope with loss, they may feel tired, get aches and pains, lose interest in food or comfort eat, struggle to concentrate, or find it hard to get to sleep. These reactions are all natural and you should allow them to grieve in their own way while making sure they know you are there when they need you.


Not knowing how to express grief can lead to anger. Some young people might act out and feel frustrated.  Others might even end up in fights. They may feel they or someone else could have done more. They could feel anger towards their sibling who has died. They might feel abandoned or like they did not get a chance to say goodbye.

Reassure them that it’s ok to feel anger while encouraging them to express it safely.


It’s common for grief to show in physical ways like feeling tired or finding it hard to sleep. Exercise can help with this, so encourage your child to get into a sport or exercise like yoga or swimming, when they feel up to it. This might be something you can do together.


Losing a sibling can cause feelings of worry and anxiety. Worrying about what will happen next and fears about losing someone else are common. A young person might also worry about becoming ill themselves.

Talking can help with anxiety if they feel up to it. If not, suggest some breathing techniques. Encourage them to eat a healthy diet and exercise. Let them know they are not alone, lots of people suffer with anxiety and fear at some point in their life.


Although many symptoms of grief are the same as depression, this does not mean your child is depressed. Symptoms of depression, like feeling sad, tired, hopeless or finding it hard to concentrate, are common when grieving.

For most people, these feelings become easier to deal with and change over time. But, if the feelings last and start to impact large parts of everyday life, it could be time to seek help.

Avoiding their friends

A key concern for teens is fitting in with their friends and not being seen to be different. They may be the only one in their friendship group who has lost someone close to them or similar in age to them. This might mean they do not want to see friends and socialise. This can lead to feelings of loneliness.

Meeting or talking to other people their age who have been through something similar can be a way to express themselves. It can also help them realise they are not alone.

Becoming distant

Shock can make some people feel numb. They might avoid situations that remind them of their sibling or find it hard to get back to normal routines. Feeling like no one gets what they are going through can make them become more distant. This can make them want to be alone as they grieve.

Talking can help with these feelings. Taking things slowly is ok. Try to get them to set small targets like texting one friend. If they do not want to talk to you, encourage them to talk to others who may have been through similar losses.

What you can do

You may feel a bit lost when it comes to helping teenagers and young people cope with the death of their sibling. If they do not want to talk to you, it can be hard to know how you can support them. They may find it difficult to speak to someone so close about what’s happened and how they feel. Let them know it is okay to speak to other relatives, friends or a counsellor.

There’s also plenty of practical ways you can support them, from encouraging exercise and helping them relax to showing them where to find useful books and information.

Keeping an open channel of communication

Give your child the chance to open up about how they feel. This is not always easy. They might not be able to express how they feel with words. They might not even know they feel. The best thing you can do is make yourself available – let them know you’re there for them and be patient. Listen to them and do not assume you know what they’re going through. You could also check in with other trusted adults in their lives.

Show emotion in front of your child

It’s good to grieve and show emotion in front of your child. This shows them what they are feeling is ‘normal’ and they can express how they feel. Just make sure the relationship balance does not shift. If your child starts to take on the responsibility of supporting you, or you feel you are not coping, you should take time for yourself.

Spending time with friends

Lots of bereaved young people will continue leading a hectic social life or go out even more. This can feel inconsistent with losing their brother or sister but for them, spending time being ‘normal’ with friends can be a good escape and help them cope.

Allow them to grieve in their own way

Be open and accepting of how they feel. They might be feeling very complex emotions like jealousy or guilt. They might feel they can never measure up to their sibling or regret any arguments they had with them. ‘Survivor guilt’ means they could be feeling guilty for living.

All these feelings can show up in ways you might not expect. The main thing is to be there for them.

Keep normal boundaries

Some teenagers can ‘go off the rails’ after a loss. They might try to claw back a sense of control by self-harming, driving recklessly, or turning to alcohol or drugs to block out their pain. It can be tricky to know if this risk-taking behaviour is due to their loss or is part of growing up. It could well be both. Keep talking to your child and maintain the boundaries you have always set. This will give them a sense of safety and continuity which is important right now.

Encourage good diet, exercise and sleep

Grieving can mean some people lose their appetite while others may want comfort eat. These reactions are common but teenagers and young people still need to look after their bodies while grieving. If your child does not want to eat, try encouraging them to eat little and often. If they are comfort eating, try getting them to consider some healthier snacks.

Exercise can help boost your child’s mood, increase their appetite and help them sleep better at night. Even just going for a walk outside will make a difference.

To help them sleep better, encourage them to avoid screens before bed. Instead, they could try listening to some relaxing music or a sleep podcast. Having a warm bath or shower before bed can also help.


Young people may prefer to talk to family and friends about their loss and this can give them all the support they need. But, if they are finding it hard to talk to those close to them, they might want to join a support group. There are also lots of counselling services available. Find out more here.

How to get your teenager to open up

If your teenager is not opening up to you, try not to worry. Be patient and make sure they know you are there when they are ready.

You could give them information, or a book to read about grief. They may find reading helps them share how they feel. Sharing useful websites and contacts could also give them the nudge they need to seek help.

Some people find making a memory box as a family or with a group of friends helpful.

Make it clear that you do not mind if they speak to someone else they trust. They might be worried about upsetting you.

Resources for your child

Helpful organisations

  • Hope Again –  a safe place where young people share advice on how to cope with grief, and feel less alone with their peers
  • Child Bereavement UK – support for young people when someone important has died or is not expected to live
  • Care for the family – a charity holding online support days and weekends for young adults after the death of a sibling.

Information reviewed May 2023

Next review due 2027

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