Written by Rachel Melhorn, LCSW, RPT, Family Bereavement Services Coordinator
Below are activities we utilize in our family Hands on Healing Program to support families in communicating feelings, thoughts and questions that children may have about grief and loss.
Many children have difficulties verbalizing their feelings after a loss and this exercise can be a way to help children openly share about emotions. All you need is a mason jar and an assortment of pom poms of various colors and sizes.
To create a feelings jar, invite your child to assign a feeling to each color pom pom. For example, the color red may represent anger and the color blue may represent feelings of sadness. After the child has selected a feeling for each pom pom color, invite them to fill the jar up with the different color based on how they feel. You can use this tool as a check-in at the beginning or end of the day to help children regularly practice sharing about their feelings.
Feel free to make your own as an adult to model healthy communication of feelings.
Oftentimes children want to talk about their lost loved one, but worry about bringing this person up for fear of making someone else upset. Together with your child, decorate a journal that he/she can use to communicate their feelings with you. Share with your child that, at any time, they can write or draw in this journal and then put the journal on your bed. Once you receive the journal, you will write a response to your child and give the journal back to them.
This tool teaches children that they can communicate with you at any time they want and gives you as a guardian space and time to respond to your child’s thoughts and feelings. This is a great intervention for young children, but also teens who may have difficulty openly communicating their feelings.
Oftentimes, young children have a lot of questions after a loved one dies. They may wonder what happens if someone else they love gets sick, what happens to you after you die or if what happened was their fault. These questions can create feelings of anxiousness for young children. Creating a question box in which children can write down their questions allows them to feel comfortable safely expressing their worries and questions with their parent or caregiver. It also provides guardians with an opportunity to prepare to answer some of these questions.
Encourage your child to decorate a box where they can write any questions they have about death or their lost loved one. As a parent, regularly check the box and then find a time to sit with your child to share with them your thoughts about their questions.
Remember, it’s also okay to not know all the answers! The important thing is to create a space of healthy sharing and communication.
Note: In light of COVID-19 and social distancing, these are also great ideas to help children cope with the thoughts, feelings and questions that they may have as they see what’s happening in the news.
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