Author: Eve Robins

When a child is bereaved the adults around them often feel helpless and don’t know what to say to make them feel better.  It is very hard to see a child suffering and it is only natural to want to try and fix their pain.  However, the sad reality is that we cannot do this.  A child needs to be able to grieve in their own way and at their own pace.  

Art therapy is often used to help children who have experienced trauma to access their emotions.  It is a great tool to enable children to express themselves, but just as not all children who are bereaved and feeling sad need to see a counsellor or psychotherapist, they also don’t need to have formal art therapy.  However, our experience has shown us that using art and other creative activities can have some real benefits for children that have been bereaved. 

There are ways to help the grieving process along though and communication, particularly talking about their feelings, may help a lot of children.  However, some children find verbal and emotional expression difficult.  This doesn’t mean that they are not feeling pain or anguish, but that it is inside them and needs help to emerge.  This is where, for some children, creative outlets might be key. 

We often recommend distraction techniques to parents because it allows a child some time and focus away from their grief.  When a child immerses themselves in a creative activity, their minds are occupied, they are focused on the task and it often helps them to switch off from the outside world for a few minutes or hours.  There is a mindfulness element to this which is known to help reduce stress and improve mental health.  When a child is bereaved, they may feel as if everything is out of control or overwhelming.  Creative endeavours are a simple and accessible way to achieve this. 

It may feel daunting to know where to start to help a child.  For some children it is easy as they are naturally creative and therefore can immerse themselves in their chosen activity, such as painting, drawing, writing poetry, crafting, drama, music etc, without too much input from an adult.  Other children might need a bit of guidance on how to get started.   

There are some creative activities listed on our website www.seesaw.org.uk/resources-list/ that describe how to make a memory salt jar or empathy beads, for example.  These activities are good to do together to help your child express their emotions through the activity.  You could also help a child decorate a memory box and help them choose what might go inside it.   

There are also a lot of creative activities online which are specifically focussed on grief work.  You may want to look at Dr Jay Children’s Grief Centre https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOYjyvXrcFvuX0fRiUudDkQ that has a whole library of creative ideas.  There are also a lot of creative ideas at https://www.activityvillage.co.uk that are not specifically grief-related but might stimulate creativity. 

Journalling and Creative Writing

Other ideas include encouraging a child to write down some thoughts in a journal.  The Happy Self Journal is a good resource for this activity (https://happyselfjournal.com) but there are others available, or just use scrap paper. You could even encourage their artistic expression by suggesting they write a poem or song lyrics.  You might be surprised by what they might come up with.    

 

Art, craft and photography

You could try giving them some paint and help them to connect with the colours to express their emotions – red for anger, yellow for joy, blue for sadness etc.  Some children like to use finger paint to do this, but if it is just too messy, use a paint brush!   

 

Another idea is to encourage your child to look through old magazine or newspapers and cut out pictures, patterns or words that mean something to them or remind them of their loved one and making it into a mixed media collage. This activity can really stimulate discussions about memories and meaning.  Other children might want to take a daily photograph to help them express their feelings and make connections to their loved one this way.

 

You might take inspiration from Ella Masters who sketched every day to help her come to terms with her brother’s death (https://www.creativeboom.com/inspiration/ella-masters-creates-a-mindful-sketch-a-day-for-a-year-after-losing-her-brother-to-suicide/). Animator Gary Andrews also drew on his creative skills after his wife died and he found himself single parenting his two children.  He has produced a book entitled ‘Finding Joy’ which will reviewed on our social media pages in due course  

Quilt Making

Many organisations have also coordinated making a memorial quilt with each individual family contributing a square.  The Manchester Speak Their Name Suicide Quilt Project is one such organisation https://uksobs.org/events/the-speak-their-name-quilt-project/?doing_wp_cron=1610467108.2225599288940429687500 and also, there is the UK Aids Memorial Quilt https://www.aidsquiltuk.org/   

These examples show us that art in whatever form can help us to express our grief, often when words are not enough.  The same principle applies to children, we just need to tap into their creative ability. 

Remember that when your child is being creative it is their way of expressing themselves.  Please try not to have too high expectations of them producing some wonderful masterpiece, it is the process that counts.  When we encourage them to tap into their creative side, we are nurturing a practice that might sustain them into adulthood.  It can be a comfort and a joy in a time when everything else feels out of control. 

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