Managing grief is hard for people of any age, but it can be especially complex for children and teens. Whether it’s grief from losing a parent, friend, or beloved pet, it’s important for adults to be there with a sympathetic ear and words of support. While everyone processes grief differently — and that process may vary from day to day — there are many grief activities designed to help children of all ages work through their complicated feelings. We’ve compiled 15 grief activities for kids and teens that may provide support and comfort.
15 grief activities for kids from elementary to teens
It’s important for kids to have outlets to process feelings they might not understand, and these options give them a way to work through those emotions. Below are 15 ideas of ways you can support kids of any age through their grief.
- Make a memory box
Building a memory box is one of the creative grief activities you can do with a child or teen because it gives them an outlet to express their emotions through art. They can have fun decorating an old cardboard box or other container, but if they aren’t feeling artistic, a store-bought keepsake box works, too. Encourage them to fill the box with things that remind them of the deceased, anything from pictures they draw or photographs to toys, poems, or stickers that remind them of their loved one.
Talk with them about the items they chose to place in the box and have them share why each is special. To help demonstrate that our loved ones are always on our minds even when they are gone, spend time periodically looking through the box together and adding new items.
- Keep a journal
Another one of the creative grief activities you can do with either a child or teen is to give them a notebook and colorful pens or markers and encourage them to keep a grief journal. Suggest that they write or draw in it daily as a way to be aware of their feelings and the ebb and flow of grief. If they aren’t old enough to write, they can draw pictures representing how they are feeling that day. Ask if they’d like to share any of the entries with you — and if not, respect their privacy.
- Create a memento together
Another one of the grief activities for children or teens that can help them process their feelings is to have your child create an object they can carry or something to wear to remember the deceased. For example, they may decorate a small rock, create a bracelet by stringing beads, dry a flower, or something similar. That way when they are feeling sad or missing their loved one, they can wear or hold the item to help them feel comfort and connection.
- Fill in the blanks
Need a grief activity for kids and teens to encourage them to talk about their feelings? Give them prompts and ask them to complete the sentence. Their responses will give you a sense of their emotions and open the door for further discussions. Ideas for prompts include:
- The thing I miss most about (the person who died) is ___
- I wish people understood that I feel ___
- I feel sad when ___
- My favorite memory of (the person who died is) ___
- If I could talk to them, I would say ___
- Most of the time, I feel ___
- Since they died, my friends ___
- I feel better when ___
If your child or teen doesn’t feel like talking, don’t push or force them to. Instead, try again another day, giving them time and space to process their emotions.
- Read books about grief
Another grief activity to get your child or teen talking is to read books about grief. Grief can be a difficult emotion for a child or teenager. They may be experiencing new, complicated feelings they don’t understand. Luckily, there are many books about death, loss, and grieving that may be helpful. An internet search can help you find a selection of books suitable for your child’s age.
Read more: How to help children cope with grief
- Scream time
No, that isn’t a typo — we are suggesting scream time over screen time! Kids are usually discouraged from throwing temper tantrums, but in this case, encourage them to let out a long, loud scream. Letting out any pent-up anger, fear, and sadness can be cathartic and is a great grief activity for elementary kids and teens.
If your child responds well to this grief activity, you may want to consider making a scream box together. A scream box provides a special place for your child to let it out whenever they feel the need. Not only will it give them a feeling of safely letting out their emotions, but a box stuffed with paper will muffle their yell, providing them privacy and protecting the sanity of the other household members.
- Write letters to the deceased
Composing letters can help you feel connected to the recipient, even if you know they’ll never read them. This is a great grief activity teens can do on their own but you’ll want to work with a younger child who cannot yet write to share their feelings. Crafting a letter as a creative grief activity allows them to use their words to express how much they miss their loved one or update them on what’s been happening since they died.
- Express gratitude
When you’re sad or grieving, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s good in your life. Our darkest times are when it’s most important to acknowledge the good things. Taking a moment to express gratitude for the positive things in your life can help maintain perspective and is a good daily grief activity for children and teens. At the end of each day, ask your child to tell you about good things that happened. You can also talk about the deceased, and why you are grateful to have known them. Showing gratitude before bed can help everyone drift off to sleep with a lighter heart.
- Grief maze
According to youthlight.com, using a grief maze illustrates the process of moving through grief. As you move forward, you may have times when you need to shift and go sideways, and sometimes you might even go backward. The important thing to remember when things feel out of sorts in your grief process is that you can simply shift your focus and move forward again. As your child works through the maze, explain these concepts to illustrate that grief isn’t a straight line. While this is a helpful grief activity for elementary kids, it can also be a valuable grief activity for teenagers.
Exercise is an excellent grief activity for families, as it’s good for clearing the mind and releasing happy chemicals in our brains. Taking care of our bodies through movement is important when we feel the stress physically. And exercise doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy; it can be as simple as throwing the football in your backyard, shooting some hoops, going for a walk together, or having a fun dance party at home. Daily movement may help alleviate some of the stress you’ve all been feeling.
- Create a family story tree
The Dougy Center website offers a variety of grief activities for children, including this template to make a family tree story. For this activity, children cut out the branch and leaves, and ask family members to write a special memory of the deceased on each leaf. After sharing your memories, the children can collect the leaves and attach them to the branch. Place the branch somewhere prominent, like on the refrigerator, and update the tree by adding more branches and leaves as you remember more stories about your loved one.
- Make a playlist
Music can often express our emotions better than we can ourselves. Ask each family member to pick songs that feel meaningful to them. It may be a song that reminds them of the deceased or sums up their feelings. Create a playlist, listen to it together, and have everyone explain why they chose the songs. This can be a very cathartic grief activity for kids and teens.
Read more: 10 songs about death to help you grieve
- Rip up paper
An easy grief and loss activity for children is “tearing up” feelings they have trouble processing. First, have the child write, or write for them, what they are feeling. Alternatively, they could draw their feelings. Then, have them rip the paper to shreds. The process of ripping the paper may relieve some of their pent-up angst. However, be sure to let them know what they are feeling is normal and that they won’t always feel this way.
- Celebrate special occasions
The first holiday or anniversary after losing a loved one can be challenging. Instead of ignoring this fact, talk openly with children about their feelings. For example, if it’s the first holiday after a death, kids could talk about the favorite holiday they spent with the deceased. Or, you could speculate about what the person would have probably worn, eaten, or said at the gathering.
On birthdays, share a meal from your loved one’s favorite restaurant or cook their favorite dish with your children. You can even bake them a birthday card together and enjoy it as a family. These grief activities help kids internalize that it’s ok to talk about their loved one and that reminiscing can be pleasurable.
- Can you believe they said that?
Knowing what to say to a grieving person can be challenging, and sometimes even well-meaning people unintentionally say something hurtful. This can add to the pain a grieving person is feeling. A helpful grief activity for teens can be to encourage them to write down anything someone said that rubbed them the wrong way. Then, ask them to share these sayings and explain why it bothered them.
This is a great way to get teens talking about their feelings. It’s possible that by saying them out loud to your empathetic ear, they may start to find these platitudes more humorous than hurtful. It’s also a good opportunity to discuss empathy, forgiveness, and boundaries.
No matter what activities you choose to do, the important thing is that you are there for a grieving child or teen. Showing your love and support teaches them that their feelings are legitimate and helps them learn how to work through their difficult and uncomfortable emotions as an important part of the healing process.
You might also find it helpful for your child or teen work with a grief counselor. They use different techniques to help work through the complex emotions and might offer other ways to help the healing process.
And don’t forget about processing your own grief while you are helping others work through theirs. It’s easy to simply ignore your emotions at a time when you are helping others, but that’s not helpful to your own healing. Make sure you take the time and space you need so you can be available to those you love.