When a family member dies, it can be difficult for children to understand what has happened, especially if they have special needs. They may feel scared, confused, and alone.
Grieving kids need support from their family and friends to overcome this challenging time. Many different activities can help your child with special needs express their emotions and cope with their loss.
Below are 31 grief activities for children with special needs that can help them move through the grieving process.
#1 Write a Letter to the Person Who Died
When you lose someone, it can be challenging to deal with the pain. Have your child write a letter to the person who died. What would they say to them if they were still alive or if they were able to say one more thing to them?
Often, this is a great way to help kids have some closure. Reading it aloud may be helpful. But some older children may feel better keeping it private.
#2 Art as Therapy
Some bereaved children find it helpful to draw pictures of how they feel when they lose a loved one. This helps them understand what they are going through and comforts them.
Allow your child to draw freely how they feel. They may also enjoy drawing the person who they lost as well. Don’t guide them. Give them materials and let them create.
Your child can also draw or paint pictures of favorite family memories or a special place they went with their loved one.
They may enjoy other forms of art like:
- Molding a sculpture with clay
- Pasting a collage
- Paper mache
- Try one of these 100 Art Therapy Exercises
#3 Create a Scrapbook, Photo Album, or Memory Box
You could also let them create a scrapbook, photo album, or their own memory box full of special memories they shared. This way, the children will have something to hold onto during difficult times.
Fill it with pictures that your child chooses. This is their special scrapbook, so if they want it a certain way, allow it.
#4 Make a List of Happy Memories
Your child needs to keep the memories of the person who died positive. This can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that they will always have a warm place in your child’s heart.
Talk about their good qualities and ask your child how the person made them happy. This way, the child will know they can still hold onto some memories of their loved one even after dying.
#5 Encourage Communication
While it may be hard, talking about the deceased person is vital for the grieving process. There is no specific time frame for this, and it does not have to happen immediately. When your child is ready, they will talk.
You don’t have to be quiet about the person who died. Bring them up as it naturally happens.
Let them know you are there if they want to talk. But that is okay if they want to speak with someone else instead.
Maybe they will feel more comfortable talking with:
- A sibling
- Another trusted family member
- A grief counselor
- Their pet
- A close friend
You might also want to look at these simple communication techniques by a special education expert.
#6 Find Comfort in Music
Kids who are grieving may find comfort in music. Many people believe listening to music can help ease the pain of a traumatic event.
Research shows that music effectively treats stress, anxiety, and depression.
They can even create a playlist of their favorite songs that remind them of their loved one.
#7 Plant a Tree
Some cultures plant a tree in honor of the person they lost. It is a simple activity that a child will love to do after they lose someone.
It acts like a memory of the person. It will remind them of the person they lost whenever they see it.
#8 Make a Pillow
Help your child create their own pillow. They can decorate it or choose the fabric they love.
Here’s a tutorial video about how to make a pillow out of a shirt.
Then, whenever they miss the person they lost, they can hug the pillow instead.
Get older kids a special new journal and let them write down their feelings. No one will read that journal besides the child, so that they can put everything in it.
Journaling is a great release and will help your children process their emotional responses and grief process.
Use the journal to write poems or stories about a special memory with their loved one.
Grief Journal Prompt Ideas:
- List the things that are still good about your life
- What is one thing you wish you could have said to your loved one before they passed away?
- Name one thing that you miss the most about your loved one
- What is your favorite memory of your loved one?
- What is one thing that you miss the most about your loved one?
- What is one happy thought that helps you when you’re feeling sad?
- What is something that you’re looking forward to in the future?
- What is one thing that you wish others knew about your grief?
- What is something that you’re grateful for today?
- What is one way that you’ve grown stronger since your loved one passed away?
- What is one thing you’re proud of doing during this difficult time?
- What are you looking forward to doing in memory of your loved one?
- What is one way that you can show kindness to yourself today?
- What do you wish you could tell your loved one right now?
- What is one thing that you’re excited about in your life?
- What have you been proud of accomplishing since your loved one passed away?
- What is one thing that you’re feeling hopeful about?
- What is a good way that you can help someone else who is going through a difficult time?
- What are you excited to learn or try in the future?
- What is one thing you’ve learned about grief you didn’t know before?
- What is one way that you can take care of yourself today?
- What are you looking forward to doing with your family or friends?
- What is one thing that you’re feeling proud of yourself for overcoming?
- What is something that you’re excited to do in the upcoming season?
- What is one way that you can be kind to yourself when you’re feeling sad?
- What is something that you’ve learned about yourself during this challenging time?
- What is one thing that you’re feeling grateful for today?
- What is one way that you can honor your loved one’s memory?
Remember, journaling can be a helpful way to process emotions and thoughts during the grieving process. Remind your child to write honestly and openly.
#10 Memory Jewelry
Make some jewelry with your child to honor the person they lost. You could make a locket with a picture of the person inside.
Or create a beaded bracelet in their favorite color or where each bead represents different memories.
Let your child determine what they want and need.
#11 Read Books About Coping With Grief
Many children find solace in books about coping with grief. These books can provide a safe place for kids to talk about their experiences and get help from others who understand them.
Reading books about grief will help kids become better equipped to manage their emotions. Research shows that reading books about dealing with difficult emotions can work quite well!
#12 Keep Your Kids Busy
A lot of times, it is simply just too much to handle for your kids. Keeping your kids busy can help them cope with their feelings and avoid further emotional pain.
When they have fun activities, they’re more likely to feel successful in managing their emotions and getting through this difficult time.
What are their favorite activities or places to go?
Here are some ideas:
- Go on a mini vacation or even just to a local hotel for the weekend
- Have a park day
- Go swimming
- Camp out in the backyard
- Go to a theme park for the day
- Have a beach day
#13 Things That Make Them Happy
Let them know it is okay to be happy even if they miss the person who died. Life doesn’t stop, and they are still allowed to be kids. The person who died wants them to be happy.
Remind them to do something every day that makes them happy.
Here are some ideas:
- Play a sport they love
- Read a book
- Build a model car from a kit
- Play dress up
- Build a Lego kit
- Set up a slip-n-slide
- Go sledding
- Play hide and seek
- Watch a funny movie together
- Tell each other jokes
#14 Keep Them Away from Emotional Situations
When it comes to managing grief, sometimes the best thing to do for your children is to keep them away from all the negative emotions that might weigh them down.
This is not a long-term solution, but it will help them get their mind off of things for a bit. By doing this, they will see that life moves on, and it can be a happy time even when they lose someone important to them.
So, during this time, do things you know they will love, eat their favorite foods, and create many happy memories.
#15 Relieve Them of Responsibility
When you are having a challenging and emotional day, do you want to get up and do a batch of laundry?
Most likely not, and neither will your kids.
Let your kids not worry about anything other than themselves for a bit.
#16 Teach Them New Skills
Non-traditional methods of teaching kids how to cope with grief may be more effective than traditional methods.
For example, arts and crafts can help kids express themselves in a healthy way, as mentioned earlier.
What have they expressed interest in? Here are some ideas for new skills your child or teen would enjoy learning:
- Foreign language
- Piano or guitar
- Change a tire
- Creating an app
They can also learn about different emotions, such as sadness, anger, and joy, through play and other fun activities.
Maybe what you teach them will become a new hobby and help them move forward!
#17 Give Them Facts
Facts about death can be a valuable resource for helping your kid to understand their experience and cope better. By providing a great resource that is accurate and helpful, you can help your child grieve in a healthy way.
- Stages of Mourning
- Appropriate outlets for emotions
- Answering their questions
#18 Make a Quilt
Make a quilt with pieces of their loved one’s clothing. Here’s a tutorial for a memory blanket that is beginner-friendly.
#19 Create a Memory Jar
Make a memory jar with small notes about their loved one.
After making that list of memories, put each on a piece of paper and put them into a jar. Encourage your child to pull one out each day.
#20 Participate in a Charity Event
Participate in a charity walk or run in memory of their loved one. Check out this site to find an event in your area.
#21 Ceremonial Event
Release balloons, lanterns, or paper boats in memory of their loved one.
#22 Create an Ornament for the Christmas Tree
The holiday season can be extra challenging for a grieving person. Create a unique ornament or decoration for their loved one to hang on the Christmas tree each year to help in the healing process.
Here are 9 DIY Memorial Christmas Ornament Ideas.
#23 Create a Video
Make a video or photo montage of memories. This can run on a digital picture frame.
They can also add this as their screensaver on their computer.
Try out this free memorial video maker.
#24 Plant a Flower Garden
Create a special garden in memory of their loved one. Plant their favorite flowers.
Add a bench to sit on and remember memories with their loved ones.
#25 Photo Memory Wall
Creating a photo memory wall is a therapeutic activity that can significantly assist your special needs child’s grieving process.
It involves selecting and displaying cherished photographs of their loved one in a prominent place, such as their bedroom or a common area in the home.
This visual tribute allows children to revisit positive memories, fostering a connection with the person they’ve lost.
Selecting photos, arranging them, and discussing them with a trusted caregiver can facilitate open conversations about their feelings and experiences, helping children express their grief in a tangible and comforting way.
The photo memory wall will be a daily reminder of the love and happy moments shared, providing comfort and reassurance during their grief journey.
#26 Grief Support Groups for Kids
Grief support groups can be immensely beneficial for a special needs child coping with losing a loved one. Here’s how these support groups can help:
– Emotional Validation:
Grief support groups provide a safe and understanding environment where you can express your emotions without judgment.
Sharing their feelings with peers going through similar experiences can help validate their emotions, reducing feelings of isolation.
– Peer Support:
Interacting with other children who are grieving can be comforting and reassuring. Special needs children often face unique challenges and may feel different from their peers.
In a support group, they can connect with others who may have similar struggles, helping them realize they are not alone in their grief.
– Shared Experiences:
Grief support groups offer an opportunity to hear about the experiences and coping strategies of others. Your children can gain insights from their peers and learn that different ways of grieving are normal.
– Development of Empathy:
Being part of a group allows children to develop empathy by listening to and supporting their peers.
They can learn to recognize and understand the feelings of others, which is an essential skill in navigating their own grief and building meaningful relationships.
– Education and Information:
Grief support groups often provide educational materials and resources on grief and the grieving process.
You and your child can better understand what to expect and how to cope with grief-related challenges.
– Parent/Caregiver Involvement:
Many grief support groups encourage the participation of parents or caregivers.
This involvement can help caregivers better understand their child’s grief and learn how to provide adequate support at home.
– Long-Term Benefits:
The healthy coping skills and emotional support gained from participation in grief support groups can have long-term benefits.
Your child can carry these skills into adulthood, helping them navigate future losses and challenges.
What to look for in a grief support group for special needs children?
It’s important to find groups facilitated by grief experts experienced in working with special needs children.
These professionals can adapt the group activities and discussions to meet the unique needs of the participants.
#27 Play Therapy
Play therapy is a therapeutic approach that offers a unique and effective way to support younger children in coping with grief.
Here’s how play therapy can help:
– Non-Verbal Communication:
Special needs children often struggle with verbal communication or expressing their emotions through words. Play therapy provides a non-verbal outlet for them to communicate their feelings, thoughts, and experiences.
Through play, they can express themselves more freely, which can be particularly important when dealing with grief-related complex emotions.
– Emotional Expression:
Grief can be overwhelming, and young children, especially those with special needs, may have difficulty understanding and expressing their emotions.
Play therapy allows them to act out and symbolically process their feelings. They may use toys, art materials, or other props to represent a different emotion, providing a safe and controlled environment for emotional expression.
– Coping Skills:
Play therapy helps children develop coping skills. They can experiment with different strategies for dealing with grief-related stress and sadness, such as:
- Relaxation techniques
- Expressing their feelings through creative play
Therapists can guide them in finding healthy ways to cope.
– Building Trust:
Building a trusting relationship with a therapist is essential for special needs children. Play therapy gradually allows them to build trust and security with the therapist.
Through play, they can become more comfortable with the therapist, which is critical for effective therapy.
– Processing Trauma:
Some grieving children may have experienced trauma associated with the loss.
Play therapy can help them process traumatic memories or emotions in a gentle and supportive manner, allowing them to move toward healing.
– Social Interaction:
Play therapy can include social play, which helps kids improve their social skills.
Interacting with the therapist or other children in a therapeutic setting can enhance their social development and emotional regulation, which can be valuable during grieving.
– Tailored Approach:
Play therapy can be adapted to suit each child’s specific needs and abilities. Therapists can choose activities and materials that align with the child’s cognitive and developmental level, making it highly customizable for special needs individuals.
#28 Let the Anger Out in a Rage Room
One of the stages of grief is anger. See if there is a rage room in your area.
This is where the room is set up to break things. It allows a safe place to let the anger out.
#29 Allow Them Scream Time
Sometimes, you feel like screaming. Help your child create a scream box to do this without disturbing anyone else.
#30 Let Them Know It Is Normal
Let your child know how they feel is normal.
Your child may:
- Feel sad
- Want to cry
- Be Angry
- Want to sleep more
All of this is normal, but also everyone goes through grief in different ways. Her thoughts and feelings may be different from those of their siblings.
And that is okay.
#31 Create a Safe Haven
It’s normal for kids to keep to themselves after an event like death. However, this won’t last forever. Give your kids space to grieve in peace (hopefully, return stronger).
This means giving them time alone (even if it’s just 10 minutes) every day after something tragic happens so they can process everything on their own timetable.
This will help them now and for the rest of their lives.
Let them build a fort in their room, a spot in their closet, or some other safe haven to be alone.
This is where they may want to do one of the other activities on this list, like journaling or drawing.
What Grief Activity Will Help Your Special Needs Child?
Children need to have activities that help them cope with their grief. Additionally, it’s essential to provide them with information to understand what is happening around them and how to cope with their loss.
By doing a loss activity, you can help the child maintain some sense of control over their lives while coping with their loss.
These grief activities for children with special needs can work for various ages, including adults.
If you are also grieving that loss, don’t forget about taking care of yourself too.
Additional Parenting Resources
- Anxious Children: Best Ways to Help Your Child With Anxiety
- How to Support a Highly Sensitive Child
- 54 Calming Activities for Kids (Simple Strategies for All Ages)
- Proven Strategy To Help Children Verbalize Their Emotions