The loss of a Loved One

Helping Children Cope with a Suicide


Many children who are grieving the death of someone, or who are witness to traumatic loss, such as is happening with recent tragedies, feel emotion on many levels, not the least of which is physical. Planning activities for children and teens that allows them to express their feelings provides a healthy and effective outlet for the many emotions they are experiencing. These activities can also bring parents and children together, at a time when the support of the family is of unparalleled importance.

For Children of Any Age:

Scream Box

Equipment: Cereal box, paper towel tube, tape, paper, scissors.

1. Stuff a cereal box with crumpled paper.
2. Close the cereal box and cut a hole in the top for the paper towel tube.
3. Tape the paper towel tube to the hole in the cereal box.
4. Decorate the box however you want.
5. Scream into the box!!!

Mad Box

Equipment: Box of any size, tape, paper.

1. Fill the box with paper, you can cut pictures from a magazine or write down things that make you mad.
2. Tape the box shut.
3. Use a plastic bat, bataka, or jump on the box until its in shreds.
4. Burn or recycle the remnants!

Worry Beads

Equipment: Sculpt clay, toothpick, old cookie sheet.

1. Create beads from clay; use a toothpick to put a hole in the middle.
2. String the beads after baking in the oven according to package directions.

Clay Sculpting

Equipment: Clay or play dough, water for softening clay.

1. Use the clay to mold into different shapes.
2. The feel of the clay can be soothing, anger can be released when children through it onto a hard surface.

Getting at Guilt - Children Struggling with Guilt over Loss

Equipment: Small, safe space, telephone books.

1. Sit with the child or children in a circle and talk openly about how you have experienced guilt feelings when someone died.
2. Ask if the children have had feelings like that and then have each person say "its not your fault" to the person next to them.
3. Tear up the phone books while saying "its not my fault!", letting the momentum build as you tear up more books!
4. Cool down by stuffing the paper (your guilt) into trash bags or by sitting in a quiet place, discussing the children's feelings.

For Young Children:

Fly Like a Lion

Equipment: Table, bean bags or gym mats for a soft landing, loud voices, careful supervision.

1. Talk to the child about power and strength - discuss people and animals who are powerful and what that means for them.
2. Let the child climb on the table and jump off onto a soft landing space. Encourage them to jump like a powerful animal, with powerful noises.
3. Recognize that this is a great way for children to take back some of the power they may feel that they lost during an illness or death, as well as a way to reach and express deep feelings.

For Teens:

In the book, Fire in My Heart, Ice in My Veins: A Journal for Teenagers Experiencing a Loss , by Enid Samuel Traisman, M.S.W., there are statements that help teens write about their feelings during a time of loss.

 " 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… "

Some more activities for helping children through a crisis:


  • Setting up building blocks and knocking them down

  • Pillow fights

  • Fill a plastic bag with plastic bottles and let the children kick the bottles, find a safe place to go and throw

  • stones, running.

Some quieter ways of expressing emotions:

  • Drawing pictures of what makes you mad and bombarding them with clay

  • Drawing pictures

  • Writing poetry, journals, letters to a friend, to the president, to the

  • terrorists.

  • Sitting and talking or listening to music with friends.

Actions to show you can make a difference:

  • Create and send thank you cards to the police and fire rescue workers.

  • Do (extra) chores to raise money to send to the Red Cross (could put a chart in the refrigerator so kids can check off chores they've done; could also create a separate piggy bank/place for money so kids can physically deposit/see/count it throughout week - and have something concrete to hand in.

  • Say prayers for those hurt and to help those in rescue/leadership.

  • Sing songs with family or group or make up a song to share with others.

  • Put up an American flag or make your own flag to fly.

  • Create "friendship bracelets" - let them pick their colors for friends or

  • ideas and tell you what they mean.

  • Don't listen to hurtful names and jokes - try to stop them.

  • Practice doing nice things for people you meet.


For Children

No New Baby by Marilyn Gryte
For siblings dealing with the loss of a brother or sister who dies before birth. Offers stories, and guidelines for comfort and support.

When Someone Very Special Dies by Marge Heegard
Designed to help children recognize and express feelings of grief through drawing and coloring exercises.

I'll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm
A story about an old and loved dog's death in a family. Offers a message about remembering the person or pet you will always love.

Abuelita's Paradise by Carmen Santiago Nodar
A young child's grandmother dies. The child sits in her grandmother's rocking chair and remembers the stories she told her about her life in Puerto Rico.

After Charlotte's Mom Died by Cornelia Spelman
A young girls mother's death causes her to feel sad, mad, and scared. She and her Dad visit a therapist who helps them acknowledge and express their feelings.

Death Turns Allie's Family Upside Down by Bob Baugher, et. al.
Allie the cat watches as her family deals with the death of a grandmother. Designed to begin a dialogue with your child about death in a gentle but realistic way.

For Teens

Living When a Young Friend Commits Suicide, Or Even Starts Talking about It by Earl A. Grollman and Max Malikow
Grief counselor and psychotherapist discuss grieving a suicide; the first days after a death, how to tell if someone is suicidal, returning to school after the death, facing the future, etc. Designed also for those who work with adolescents dealing with this issue.

Through and Beyond by Molly Field
13 teenagers share their battles with cancer in this book with a forward by Senator Ted Kennedy. Discussions include diagnosis, day to day life, support systems, and self-esteem. This book is mainly in the teenagers own words.

For Adults

Healing Children's Grief: Surviving a Parent's Death from Cancer by Grace Hyslop Christ
Provides a comprehensive understanding of the effect of a parent's death on the lives of surviving family members through moving stories of 88 families and their 157 children. These families participated in a parent-guidance intervention through the terminal illness and death of one of the parents from cancer. Very theoretical in the first section with findings discussed in the second section.

Men Don't Cry…Women Do: Transcending Gender Stereotypes of Grief by Terry L. Martin,
Challenges traditionally held beliefs in the grief processes of men and women. Emphasizes individual ways of coping with grief as well as specific patterns. Speculates on factors that contribute to grief process including personality, culture, etc.

Talking With Children About Loss by T. Berry Brazelton
Words, strategies, and wisdom to help children cope with death, divorce, and other difficult issues. Uses stories and analysis as examples. Also discusses age appropriate responses to children's questions and concerns.

Bereaved Children and Teens by Earl A. Grollman
A support guide for parents and professionals/volunteers seeking to help children cope with the death of someone they know. Discusses among other things, different religious customs and beliefs about death, and how to tell if a grieving child needs professional care.

The Helper's Journey by Dale G. Larson
Discusses working with people facing grief, loss, and life-threatening illnesses. A central goal of the book is to provide opportunities for the reader to compare their inner lives as helpers with those of fellow helpers who can become valued teachers. Intended for volunteers, social workers, counselors, etc.

Helping Adults With Mental Retardation Grieve A Death Loss by Charlene Luchterhand, et. al.
Discusses specific situation of helping family members and volunteers address grief issues with the mentally challenged population. Provides guidelines for support as well as general information about the grief process.

A Parent's Guide for Suicidal and Depressed Teens by Kate Williams
Help for recognizing if a child/teen is in crisis and what to do about it. How to deal with adolescent issues, ranging from depression to feelings such as shame and inadequacy. Uses authors personal experience with her daughter as an example.

Guiding Your Child Through Grief by Mary Ann Emswiler, et. al.
Guide by the founders of the New England Center for Loss and Transition. Offers advice to help a child grieving the death of a parent or sibling. Based on their experience as counselors- and also as parents of grieving children. Discusses changes in family dynamics, ways to communicate, how to cope during holidays, etc.

The Courage to Grieve by Judy Tatelbaum
Creative living, recovery, & growth through grief. Contains reasonable suggestions for handling grief with courage. Author uses personal examples from her life to illustrate points.

Sarah's Journey by Alan D. Wolfelt
One child's experience with the death of her father resulting from a car accident. Based on the belief that children mourn in their own ways and need the love and support of grown-ups who care about them. Describes Sarah's grief experience and offers counsel for adults who would like to help grieving children.

Never Too Young to Know by Phyllis Rolfe Silverman
Draws on a collection of life stories from parents and children to explore the experience of death as human loss and a process of potential growth. Weaves scholarly research with insights of the real experts- bereaved children and parents.

Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison
Understanding suicide through memoir of authors experience of manic-depression and suicide attempt. Uses both scientific exploration of subject as well as personal essays about individual suicides. Helps to better recognize persons at risk, as well as to understand the suicidal mind.


A tiny boat at sea by Izetta Smith
How to help children who have a parent diagnosed with cancer. Discusses principles to live by as well as tasks facing children when responding to a cancer diagnosis in a parent. The word "tasks" is meant to accentuate the active nature of the grief process and an indication of the tone of the book.

My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
Stories of strength, refuge, and belonging that dispel the common myth of serving others as sacrifice and brings the power to strengthen and celebrate life around us within reach for everyone. Based in part on author's relationship with her grandfather.

The Tiny One by Eliza Minot
A story about an eight year old who loses her mother in a car accident. She deals with her feelings of loss - and at the same time tries to hold on to her mother- by remembering in great microscopic detail everything about the day her mother died. By doing this, she hopes to make some kind of sense out of her death, and at the same time figure out how she is going to go on with her life.
A wonderful true story of a courageous Maine woman's fight against breast cancer. Book is comprised of e-mail messages from friends and family sent to her and her family during her illness and after her death. Her husband and oldest son constructed a website dedicated to keeping everyone informed about how she was doing- and it blossomed into a treasury of thoughts and feelings from around the world. A moving story of one woman's celebration of life and death.

Encourage your children to talk and express all of their feelings in ways that make them feel honored and valued. Share your feelings openly, honestly, and calmly. Remember, love really counts.


From The Center for Grieving Children


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