Stay at Home Tips: How to help youth deal with change and loss

See more Extension Stay at Home Tips from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension.

 For reliable information you can trust about COVID-19 go to


How to help youth deal with change and loss

Older high school youth may experience unique grief at this time of physical distancing. The life that they imagined has become a very different reality. During this period of their development  sports, clubs, friends and celebrations are all very important to them.They may also face the unexpected death of a loved-one without access to traditional ways of grieving. While you cannot change the circumstances, you can support your child through this turbulent time. 

What is grief?

  • Grief is a response to loss and our children are experiencing a significant amount of loss.
  • Grief is a normal part of the human experience.
  • Grief comes in many shapes and forms.
  • Grief is not experienced in a particular order.
  • Grief may be experienced in all of the stages or just a few.

The following stages provide examples of how your youth may be feeling, what they may be thinking, or how they might be behaving. This is not a diagnosis of your child, rather a guide for the signs you might observe and symptoms they express. 

What are the stages or categories of grief and what do they look like?

Shock and Denial

When dealing with a sudden and overwhelming experience, it is not uncommon to pretend the change is not happening. Denying the severity of this unprecedented event gives them more time to absorb all the change.

  • You may see: no change 
  • You may hear: “This will all be over tomorrow” or  “Kids my age don’t get the virus”


Anger may come out misdirected at family members or inanimate objects. Not all youth will experience this stage. Some may linger here.

  • You may see: youth acting irritable, bitter, and/or resentful
  • You may hear: “It’s not fair!….”


During grief, youth may feel vulnerable and helpless, especially within the context of a global health crisis. In those moments of intense emotions, it’s not uncommon to look for ways to regain control or to want to feel like you can affect the outcome of an event.

  • You may see: an increased need to control small things
  • You may hear:  a lot of “what if” and “if only” statements


Depression may feel like the inevitable landing point of any loss. However, if youth feel stuck here or can’t seem to move past this stage of grief, talk with a mental health professional. A therapist can help you work through this period of coping.

  • You may see: a change in sleep activity or eating habits, lethargy or apathy, helplessness or hopelessness. Watch for a change in positive mood or interest in activities that once made them happy.
  • You may hear: “I don’t understand how I feel”


Acceptance doesn’t mean youth have moved past the grief or loss of their expected high school experiences. It means that youth have accepted the situation and have come to understand what it means in their life.

  • You may see: future planning, an  increase in problem solving
  • You may hear: “It is what it is” and other planning ahead language

Creating new meaning

When the immediate loss has come to completion, there will be time to support your youth in exploring how these losses have shaped them. 

  • You may see: healthy reflection on what was learned
  • You may hear: “I’ve changed from this..”

What can I do to help? 

  • Let them express their feelings. It is sad and frustrating– let them feel sad, let them express thoughts in their language.
  • Validate their feelings. Don’t dismiss the problem or emotion. Don’t say things like “get over it” or “at least you’re not…”
  • Ask questions, don’t push, be genuine and supportive and be comfortable with silence.
  • Remember their grief is about a young person, not you; their experiences/perspective  may not be the same as yours.
  • Involve the youth in the solution about how you can help them. For example, help your youth explore activities that might help manage symptoms, and brainstorm strategies that interest them.
  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep.
  • Don’t give advice or try to fix the problem yourself.

What if I need more help? 

Parenting high school students is hard work. Now, more than ever, we need to draw upon support and use self-help strategies as we lead our teens through these times. In order to be fully present for your youth, take good care of yourself and attend to your own emotions. You are surrounded by others who are sharing similar experiences and together you can support each other. 

For additional support reach out to:

  • Other parents
  • Your school community
  • Your faith community
  • Medical and mental health providers

Additional Resources

Teen friendly resources and wellness activities -Sources of Strength

Staying Resilient During COVID-19

The Dougy Center – The National Center for Grieving Children and Families 

If you or someone you know is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255


Know the basics about COVID-19

FOR RELIABLE INFORMATION YOU CAN TRUST, about staying safe and what to do if you have COVID-19 symptoms, go to

What are the symptoms? Not everyone with COVID-19 has all of these symptoms. For many, symptoms are mild, with no fever. It is important to know that you can still spread (transmit) the virus to others even if you have mild or no symptoms. Two to 14 days after exposure, people may experience:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Body or muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

What should I do if I develop symptoms?

If you become ill, stay home and call your doctor if you feel you need medical care or advice. If you are having an emergency, call 911. 

  • Each day, write down your symptoms so you can share accurate information with your doctor. 
  • Make sure a family member or friend knows that you are unwell and ask them to check on you by phone or video chat every day. Even mild illnesses can quickly take a turn for the worse.
  • Practice good self-care. Get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids.

How can I lower my risk of getting COVID-19?

  • Stay home as much as possible to protect yourself and others.
  • When possible, shop for two weeks of groceries at a time to expose yourself less often.
  • Wash your hands regularly for at least 20 seconds especially after using the bathroom, before eating, and after touching door handles, keypads, pens, and other frequently used surfaces.


  • Call the National Disaster Distress Helpline to speak to a trained crisis counselor
    • 800-985-5990
    • 800-846-8517 (TTY)
    • Or text:  TalkWithUs to 66746
  • Access information and resources to help you meet your immediate needs
  • Call 2-1-1
    • Contact your local Aging and Disability Resource Center

See more UW-Madison Division of Extension Safer at Home Tips 


This page is optimized for printing
Support Extension