Children often express and deal with grief differently than adults. When a child experiences the loss of a loved one, she might engage in repetitive play, display regressive behaviors, experience mood swings or withdraw as a way to handle feelings of shock and pain. Helping children process their feelings is crucial to their emotional adjustment down the road. Depending on the age of the child, certain therapeutic activities can help children cope while grieving.
Art therapy is often a beneficial method for helping children of all ages deal with grief. Children do not often have the capacity to fully express their feelings in words, but they can usually tell stories about their emotions and experiences through images and pictures. Drawings can be indicative of their fears, beliefs and emotions about death and dying, says art therapist Cathy A. Malchiodi in an article for the journal, "Trauma and Loss: Research and Interventions." Encourage children to draw pictures that express their feelings. Allow the child to draw whatever she feels and ask her to tell you a story about the picture.
Creating a memory box is another beneficial therapeutic activity to help some children cope with grief, says Malchiodi. A memory box is a tool that can help children memorialize their loved one in any way they choose. Children can design the exterior of the box, which can be as basic as a shoe box, and paste pictures or drawings of their loved one on the box. In the interior of the box, children might choose to place certain items, such as knickknacks, photos or other memorabilia, that remind them of the person or events they shared together.
Bereavement or grief support groups can be beneficial therapeutic activities for children who are more easily able to articulate their thoughts and emotions. Support groups help children express their feelings and allow them to share their experiences with other children who are dealing with similar losses, according to Boston Children's Hospital. Support groups are lead by qualified mental health practitioners trained in helping children express their feelings and cope with grief. Parents and other involved adults can find grief support groups in their area through hospitals, hospices and religious organizations, or by contacting Rainbows International, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping children cope with grief.
Online activities can be another beneficial method for helping children cope with grief. Many organizations offer online activities that children can work on alone or together with adults to help process feelings of grief and loss. PBS Parents offers a list of different therapeutic activities for children and parents, such as information, art activities, games and stories, that can be printed out or accessed on its website. The Scholastic organization's website also has online activities, communities and a list of suggested books about grief and loss for children and teens.
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