Arts and crafts can be an effective tool in helping children express their grief after a loss.

How Arts and Crafts Help Children Express Grief

Published September 24th, 2015

The death of a parent or loved one can be a traumatic event in the life of a child. After a death, children can have difficulty expressing their grief with others and can verbally and emotionally shut down. Children, especially younger children, lack the coping skills that life experiences bring and can lack the cognitive functions necessary to express their emotions in a way that adults can clearly understand. For the significant adults in the life of a grieving child, this can make it difficult to help the child navigate and cope with grief. Sadly, this can lead to a child’s grief being overlooked, or interpreted as rule breaking or acting out, and leaving them to cope on their own.

Children Can Have Difficulty Expressing Their Grief

Children may be unwilling to express their grief due to beliefs rooted in misinformation, fear, or confusion.

  • In the death of a parent, children may believe that talking about the death of the mother or father with the surviving parent may upset them.

  • Children may believe that they need to stifle tears and “be strong,” or that they need to be the “man/woman of the house” after their parent or loved one has died.

  • Children may feel that talking about their feelings with the significant adults in their life would only add additional stress upon those adults.

Children may also be reluctant to talk about how they feel because of guilt or anger they are carrying with them.

  • Children may feel angry at the deceased parent or loved one for abandoning them.

  • Children may feel guilty for being angry at their parent or loved one prior to their death.

  • Children may feel guilty that they didn’t spend enough time with the parent or loved one while they were still alive.

  • Children may carry guilt because things were left unsaid between them and the deceased.

Arts and Crafts Help Children Express Their Grief

For some children, engaging in creative arts such as drawing, clay modeling, and painting can have a tremendously positive impact. By using arts and crafts as an emotional outlet, grieving children can begin to express their grief and open up about their thoughts and emotions with others.

There are five ways in which arts and crafts help promote the healing process.

  1. Arts and crafts allow children to communicate without using words.
    Children may not have the cognitive ability or vocabulary to express their grief clearly. In using art as means of communication, you allow grieving children to communicate in a way that doesn’t require words and allows them to freely express what’s in their heart and mind.

  2. Arts and crafts provide safety for grieving children to communicate.
    Children may fear what others, particularly their peers, think of them, their thoughts, and their feelings. Children commonly feel greater safety from judgment when expressing themselves in an artistic manner rather than verbally.

  3. Arts and crafts help children feel in control.
    After the loss of a parent or a loved one, children can feel helpless. They can feel as if they have no control over what happens in their life. In giving them the power to paint, draw, or model whatever they wish, they can begin to regain a sense of control.

  4. Arts and crafts allow grieving children to release their emotions.
    A lump of clay, a blank canvas, or a fresh sheet of drawing paper provides children an open, creative landscape. Arts and crafts allow grieving children to release their emotions and funnel them into the artwork that they create.

  5. Arts and crafts help children express their thoughts on abstract ideas.
    Children’s thoughts concerning abstract subjects, such as the afterlife or the distant future, may be difficult for them to explain verbally. Children can begin to concretely express their thoughts about abstract ideas, and how these thoughts apply to their grief, as they create their artwork.

Arts and Crafts Projects You Can Do to Help Grieving Children

Children enjoy all types of arts and crafts projects, but there are some preferred mediums that peak kids’ interests. Statistically speaking, children's favorite medium is clay, but any arts and crafts project, regardless of media, can help give children who are experiencing grief the freedom and safety to express how they’re feeling. The following are a few examples of arts and crafts projects that you can do to help children express their grief.

Grief Masks

grief masks are a great craft project to help your child express their grief

What you’ll need for this project:

  • Modeling clay

  • Acrylic paints

  • Variety of paint brushes

Children in grief sometimes try to put on a brave face and not show how they truly feel. By creating clay grief masks, you can allow the children to create a window into their heart and mind. After the grief masks are completed, asking children about their choice of colors, mask designs, and mask shapes can offer insight into how they’re feeling.

Memory Boxes

memory boxes allow children to remember the good times that were had with a deceased loved one

What you’ll need for this project:

  • Different-sized boxes

  • Craft paper, variety of cloth material, ribbons, and tags

  • Clear-drying glue

Memory boxes allow children to create special collections of items that remind them of the treasured memories that they created with their deceased parent or loved one. Viewing the items in the memory box at a later time can help children realize that they can feel different emotions about memories at different times.

Balloon Releases

balloon releases allow children a feeling of closure and healing whenever they wish

What you’ll need for this project:

  • Helium tank and balloons

  • Twine, ribbon, or string

  • Markers

Balloon releases allow grieving children to visualize sending messages to their deceased parent or loved one. Sending these messages can help alleviate the guilt that some children experience when feeling that they left things unsaid to a loved one. A balloon release can be performed to commemorate the deceased parent or loved one’s birthday, a holiday, or at any point that a child wishes.

How You Can Support Grieving Children and Families

Crossroads Kids is a community that honors the validity of child and family grief. Each Crossroads Kids camp incorporates therapeutic activities with a fun camping experience to allow grieving children and their families to connect with one another and begin the healing process.

By giving a Gift of Light to the children of Crossroads Kids, you can provide a camp with all of the art and craft supplies used in the therapeutic creative sessions. All donations to Crossroads Kids, regardless of size, directly support camps in providing healing to grieving children and families.

The use of arts and crafts is one of many ways to support children who are experiencing grief. The creative arts can play a powerful role in providing a safe place for children to share how they feel. By using arts and crafts, you can help give children a landscape where they are free to be themselves and free to express their grief.

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References

  1. Understanding Childhood Grief and How to Help: A Guide for Adults."Rutgers Universal Behavioral Healthcare. Rutgers University
  2. Haine, R. A., Ayers, T. S., Sandler, I. N., & Wolchik, S. A. (2008). Evidence-Based Practices for Parentally Bereaved Children and Their Families. Professional Psychology, Research and Practice, 39(2), 113–121. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.39.2.113h
  3. "A Review of Research and Methods Used to Establish Art Therapy as an Effective Treatment Method for Traumatized Children." The Arts in Psychotherapy. State University of New York College at Cortland
  4. "The Effectiveness of Expressive Group Art Therapy on Decreasing Anxiety of Orphaned Children." University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Science.

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