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When children are grieving the death of someone close to them or trying to come to terms with the serious illness of a family member, they experience many emotions. Young children use their imagination and other nonverbal resources to understand their loss. As they get older, they can more easily put into words what they are going through. Sometimes it is hard to share these thoughts and feelings with others. Here are some ideas for helping children and teens express their feelings in a healthy and safe way. These activities can also help bring parents and children together, at a time when the support of the family is of unparalleled importance.
Feelings can show up in all different places in our bodies and in a lot of different ways. This idea can help you figure out what feelings you are having and what they feel like in your body. You will need a big piece of paper and some crayons or markers.
Talk with your parent or another adult you trust about the different feelings that you are having. Remember all your feelings are okay. Some feelings that people tell us they have when someone dies are sadness, anger, guilt, relief, happiness, love, confusion.
Ask the adult to trace your body or you can draw the outline of your body on the paper if you want to.
Remember times when you have had these different feelings, such as sadness and where you felt it in your body. Put the sadness onto your traced body using words, colors, shapes and pictures. Go to another feeling and continue doing this through a whole range of feelings.
In the book, Fire in My Heart, Ice in My Veins: A Journal for Teenagers Experiencing a Loss , Enid Samuel Traisman, M.S.W., suggests several statements that can help you write about or draw your feelings during a time of loss. Find a blank book a pen or something to draw with. Choose statements that mean something to you. Be sure to talk with someone you trust if you are having a hard time or feel like hurting yourself.
Sometimes I find myself imagining that if these things were different, your death might not have really happened.I wish you could tell me what your death was like, what really happened. I think you'd say... "I can physically feel the pain of your death, and this is where and how I feel it in my body. "Here is a drawing of what my pain looks like..."This is what I would write on your tombstone so that everyone who would read it would have an idea of the person you were. "I often wear a mask to hide what I am really feeling. I do this because..."Late at night, when the world is asleep, I am awake thinking about..."Our friends got together and did something special in your memory..."Music helps release feelings; here are some songs/lyrics that mean a lot to me. "A poem that I wrote (or is special)... "I think about the meaning of life. Why people die when they do... "This is what helps me find meaning in my pain over your death... "
This idea will help your family create a project that helps your family talk about whatever is on your mind. Anyone can suggest a topic. Some ideas are things you appreciate about each other, things that make you happy, what you are worried about, things that help you feel better, things you remember about the person who died.
You will need paper, glue, scissors, old magazines, photos etc. Allow everyone some time to look through the magazines and choose pictures or words that mean something to them. Use glue sticks and your paper to make a collage of the magazine cutouts.
Give each person a chance to talk about what they choose and why. If you want to, hang your collage in a special place.
You might be surprised by what you and your children learn about yourselves and each other from trying one of these activities. Each person is unique and expresses grief in his or her own way through verbal, emotional and physical behaviors. There is a wide range of normal after a loss. If your child shares anything that worries you, especially if they speak about wanting to die or taking their own life, you should always take it seriously and reach out for additional help.