Children who experience the death of a loved one need a safe place in which to discuss their feelings. There are many therapeutic groups around the country for children who’ve experienced loss. Many times, children are split into different groups according to their ages, and therapists choose activities that are developmentally-appropriate. Parents can also do some of these activities with their children.
Art therapy can be used with children of all ages. It’s especially effective with children who can’t verbalize their feelings, but can draw objects and people, according to the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. Ask the child to draw her feelings. After she’s done drawing, ask her to explain her drawing to you. Even if the child doesn’t say much about the drawing, you can tell from the colors, people and objects in her drawing how she’s feeling. For example, if the child covers the paper in sharp red lines and scribbles, she’s probably angry. Another art therapy technique is asking the child to draw what makes her afraid or sad.
Young children need help understanding their emotions. Ryan’s Heart, a nonprofit organization for grieving families, recommends giving children blank faces with emotions written underneath them. Make sure to include the basic emotions, such as happiness, sadness, anger and fear. After the child draws the faces, you can ask him questions about them. For instance, you could ask him what his face looks like when he’s sad, what it’s like to be sad and how he makes himself feel better when he’s sad.
Discussing Coping Techniques
When a child loses a loved one, she might feel depressed, anxious or afraid. It’s important to explain to the child that it’s all right to feel those emotions. Give examples of how some people grieve to let the child know that she’s not alone. Help the child learn coping techniques after she’s been allowed some time to grieve. Assist the child in making a list of things that make her happy, and then talk to her about healthy ways to cope with upsetting feelings. You might explain that when you feel sad, you like to take a walk or escape the real world by reading a good book. Model healthy coping skills, and encourage the child to do one thing that makes her happy each day.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This is another technique that can be used with children and teens of all ages. When the child seems overwhelmingly sad or angry, help him cope with those feelings by practicing progressive muscle relaxation. Tell the child to either sit in a comfortable chair or lie down. Instruct the child to squeeze his toes together as hard as he can for 15 seconds and then release them. Tell him to take a deep breath, and then move on to his calf muscles, and continue to encourage him to squeeze and relax each part of his body until he reaches the top of his head.