12 Activities to Help Children with Grief
In order to help children with grief, adults must be compassionate, patient, and open-hearted. (Photo by Meaghan Curry)
When children lose a loved one, they still feel the loss but may not have the necessary vocabulary to express it. They may not know how to ask the right questions. To help children with grief, reassure them that other loved ones in their life are still there for them, that others are still there when they need someone to talk to, someone who will listen.
Like adults, children grieve in cycles. They usually cannot sustain the constant painful emotions and must break from them by playing, reading, or other distractions. Behavior like this doesn’t mean that a child’s grief is not there, just that it is “on the back burner.”
Because children may lack the necessary tools to cope with his or her grief, you can help children with grief through activities designed to remember the loved one. Children love to create, and you can channel this love into something that also helps them feel and cope with their loss. You can make a difference.
If you know a child grieving the loss of a loved one, try the following activities. You may find that the two of you share something beautiful and special.
Create a concrete stepping stone together
Kits at your local craft store will allow you to mix up a small amount of concrete and pour it in a mold. Of course, this requires adult supervision. Then, let the child write their loved one’s name in the stone with a stick or decorate it by pressing in small items such as charms, beads, or momentoes.
Create a memorial
Just as many people may keep a photo on display of the loved one who has passed away, look for ways you can create something for the loved one that the child can touch every day. Can you plant a tree in their honor? Can you plant a flowerbed? Can you decorate a bench or small piece of furniture? Anything solid and lasting will help children with grief.
Create a memory book
Using a scrapbook, put together photos of the child and loved one, helping the child understand that the special book can be looked at any time. Several websites allow you to upload photos, write memories, and put together other material for a scrapbook, and will bind and produce a real book for you.
Make a recording honoring the loved one
In a special folder on the computer that the child can access, store recorded tributes for the loved one. Using a digital device, such as on a smartphone, tablet, or digital camera, record a song or spoken letter for the loved one. Thinking about the happy times, pass the recorder around to relatives so everyone can share memories and stories, to add even more.
Create a collage
Use a poster board and add photos, keepsakes, and other items of meaning. For example, you can use yarn, ribbon, dried flowers, stickers, ticket stubs, and other small mementos to help children with grief by reflecting on the importance of small mementos. Look through pictures in magazines of places the person lived or wanted to visit, and paste those on as well.
Give to a charity in the loved one’s name
Children are generous and love to help others. Find a charity that has some meaning or connection to the loved one, and help the child gather money for it. It could be as simple as searching for change around the house or asking friends and family for spare change. Any action in this direction can make a child feel like they’re doing something to make their loved one proud.
Write stories, with the loved one as the hero
Let the child imagine the loved one doing magical things, such as flying over a field of candy, climbing a ladder to the clouds, or catching a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Ask the child what animal the loved one would be, and construct a tale about that animal. Keep the story positive, but take the opportunity to talk about the loss, if your child wants to.
Make a quilt or blanket
Gather clothing or other fabric items that belonged to the loved one. You can sew it yourselves or take it to a local tailor with your design or pattern in mind. Put the cloths together as a special quilt or blanket to hug whenever needed to comfort and help children with grief. Just knowing that it was something from the loved one’s home may comfort the child. Children can help cut out squares of fabric or lay out the pattern.
Create a shadowbox
Shadowboxes are similar to picture frames, but they have a solid back, raised sides a few inches thick, and a clear glass cover. They can be made or purchased at craft stores. A display of the loved ones’ items can help children with grief. Use items such as a pair of gloves, costume jewelry, a purse or wallet, lace from a collar, a handkerchief, letters, documents or anything that the child may have seen their loved one use or wear. The collection in the box becomes the child’s own museum. The box can be displayed on a wall or on the top of a dresser.
Create a “scent-ory”
Find a scent that reminds the child of the loved one and keep it around to be smelled whenever the child wants. To help children with grief that comes on unexpectedly or intensely, you can try to find a bar of the particular soap their loved one used, shave it into a mesh bag, and keep it handy. Or take some cotton balls, spray them with cologne, and keep them in a plastic bag that can be opened and smelled when needed. Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory.
Plan a tribute day
Think of the things the loved one liked to do, and then plan a day to do them. If the loved one liked to visit museums, go to one in their honor. If the loved one liked to cook, plan a meal and let the child participate as much as age appropriate. Take a special day to celebrate the loved one’s interests and to help children with grief understand that the loved one lives on through the children’s actions.
Make a “nature” box
Have the child find things outdoors that the loved one would like. Ask the child to think about, for example, the color rock the person would like. Is there a certain shape or size they would pick out themselves? Collect twigs, leaves, rocks, flowers, bird feathers, and other small items to keep in a box as a tribute. The important process of collecting can help children with grief feel connected to the loved one; it can help the child heal. The child has time to reflect on the loved one and design something to care about. Help facilitate the process so the child can talk, if needed.
The whole point of any of these activities is to let the child participate in some action. Children want to feel they are making a difference and honoring a loved one’s memory, just as adults do. Make sure you allow them to do it in their own way and on their own terms, but make sure to do something to help children with grief and loss.
Everlasting Footprint is dedicated to helping people celebrate life. Creating a Footprint as a digital tribute and legacy space is another way to help a child, or an adult, cope with grief and loss.