People often ask how to help a child who has experienced a loss. It’s hard to know exactly what to do or say, but I promise doing something is better than nothing. When I was nine years old, I lost my older sister in a car accident. I remember how difficult life was at the time. Not only was I trying to process and understand everything going on, but seeing my family experiencing such a large amount of grief was overwhelming. One of the biggest struggles for someone supporting a grieving child is to make sure they aren’t forgotten. Kids are so resilient and sometimes we interpret their willingness to keep smiling and playing as them handling the situation well, but that isn’t always the case. Kids tend to process and express things differently than adults and while some will show obvious emotions, many others will express it differently than we might think. This is just something to keep in mind as you try to support a grieving child.
Here are 3 ways you can help children who have experienced a loss.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you order something after clicking my link I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Did you know that many children learn to express emotions and process grief through play? Not only does this help them move through grief, but it can become an outlet for them to find joy and normalcy.
Open-ended toys that create endless possibilities are a great option. There is so much room for creativity and it's not a one and done type of toy.
This Build A Fort is an amazing tool for kids to use their imagination. Think of being able to build in anyway you can imagine and what it could be used for. This is a great one for parents to be able to assist for some younger ones without it seeming too daunting but could also be more of an independent toy for some kids who are a little older.
My child’s favorite and most used item is Magna-Tiles. These are great for any age. Seriously, one year olds to adults seem to love building with these. They can build towers, place them on a garage door and make patterns, create little houses, rocket ships, and anything else they can think of. These are perfect to help kids have a lot of independent fun and give caregivers a bit of a break to get things done of focus on themselves.
Similar to Magna-Tiles as far as exercising a creative mind and helping keep hands busy is everyone’s favorite toy - LEGOS! There are generic sets that let them build however they want or you can get a specific set that is geared toward a child’s specific interest. You can pick up sets for under $10 or more time consuming detailed sets.
Another gift idea that you can’t really go wrong with is new art supplies. It’s as easy as running to the dollar store and grabbing some stickers, paper, and crayons or even setting up a paint night with a few people and making it a fun evening. This is always something that can spark so much joy and also give an outlet to release some creativity. Anything to give grieving kids a break will be beneficial.
2. Activities and Adventure
When I lost my sister there was a lot of people around our family at first and then everyone seemed to disappear. Life has to go back to normal for most people, but those who are in the middle of it all have a harder time finding their new normal. My parents were navigating this new world of grief and with the added expenses of my sister’s funeral, we were in no position to go out and do much. I remember feeling trapped in a state of sadness. A family friend gave some of my siblings and I season passes to a water park near our house. Our sister died right before summer so it gave us an entire summer of distractions. Something my parents didn’t have to worry about paying for or think about planning. We went nearly every single day.
You don’t necessarily have to buy a season pass, but you could grab a gift card for a day of fun anywhere or even to an amusement park, the movie theater, to get ice cream, or even to paint pottery. Distractions can be so beneficial. Finding happiness and feeling normal, even for a short time can mean so much to a grieving family.
Another easy way to help is to be the one to take the children to do some of these fun activities. Offer play dates, take them for ice cream, or to a museum. You can pick them up for a few hours to play at the park. Not only will this help the child feel valued and important, but it can also give the grieving adult a much needed break. My suggestion is don't wait for them to ask for help, make the initiative yourself!
3. Remembrance Gifts
We lost our first child to a neuromuscular disease before any of our other children were born. One of the first things we have done for each of our boys when they are old enough is to take them to Build a Bear and let them make a special bear that we name their sister bear. We record her laugh on the little recorder that goes in its tummy so they each have something physical to remember her. This would be great for any age. You can buy gift cards here. The recording could be anything from a heartbeat to someone talking. Making the bear just for their special loved one will be a great reminder they can keep forever.
For those who are a bit older Presentlee has many incredible gifts that could work for this age group. A couple of my favorites are the ‘I See You’ necklace, the Handwritten Keychain and the Handwritten Engraved Ring. There couldn’t be a more perfect reminder for someone that they are very much seen in all of this and that their grief matters.
There is no age too young to encourage writing or drawing your feelings and putting it on paper.
When children are having trouble expressing their feelings with words, you can give them blank paper and a box of crayons or markers and tell them to draw their feelings. I’ve seen children take this literally and draw a picture of a sad child with big tears going down the paper, and I’ve seen children go with a more symbolic route and emphatically fill the paper with red or black markings to indicate anger. Either way, the act of coloring is a release of these feelings. An extra benefit is that when they are done coloring, they tend to explain the drawing by describing what made them feel that way. (To read more on this subject click here)
You could find a fun notebook for the kids to decorate themselves or find one with a message on the cover like this one from Presentlee. Write an encouraging note to them on the inside saying how much you care about them and that they can use this book to write down or draw their feelings and memories.
No matter their age, everyone wants to be seen and to know they haven’t been forgotten, especially during difficult trials. So remember to spend time with them. Send a note after things have settled down and life has gone back to normal for most. Show up on anniversaries or holidays. Talk about what you remember about their special person. Acknowledge the person missing. There is no end to grief. There will never be a time they don’t need to feel love and validation. You really can make a difference just by showing up. Sometimes it can be awkward or uncomfortable because you don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. But you will never be in the wrong for doing something!
Do you have more ideas on how to help a grieving child? Please share with us below!