Activities for Grieving Children and Families | Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy | UC Davis Children's Hospital

Activities for grieving children and families

Painting of a colorful heart in the night sky.

Play, creative activities, and physical movement help children naturally express their feelings, concerns, and questions.

The activities below are intended for varying ages and can be adapted to meet the specific needs of your child or adolescent. We have included links to handouts from the Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families for selected activities.


  1. Write or draw heart notes of gratitude (PDF) for people in your family or your friends. In your note, express the ways each person has encouraged, inspired, supported, or cared for you.
  2. Help your child identify how they are feeling and think about tools they can use to manage feelings. Use this, What to do with a feeling? (PDF) as a template.
  3. Create a “mailbox” or jar where children can write (or draw) any questions/comments/feelings they are having on a piece of paper. This piece of paper gets put it into the box and gets discussed at a family meeting that happens at the same time each day/week (etc.).
  4. Encourage journaling. Starting with a prompt can be helpful:
    • I wonder...I wish...I hope... (PDF)
    • The thing that makes me feel the saddest is...
    • Since the death, my family doesn’t...
    • If I could change things, I would...
    • After the death, school has been...
    • When I am alone...
  5. Create a family rock garden. You can use paint or markers to write characteristics about your loved one or draw favorite family memories on the rocks. The rocks can be placed in a special place in your home or yard.
  6. Create a family scrapbook, which could include pictures, notes to one another, important quotes, and so on.
  7. Create a coping chain (PDF) that helps the child identify what support they need when feeling a certain way.


  1. Take ten slow breaths
    • Using pinwheels or bubbles to practice deep breathing can be helpful for younger children.
  2. Engage the senses and bring attention to:
    • 5 things you can see
    • 4 things you can hear
    • 3 things you can touch
    • 2 things you can smell
    • 1 thing you can taste
  3. Help children find items from A to Z around the room. Find something that begins with A, then B, then C and so forth.
  4. Mirroring activity: Take turns with your child pretending you are a mime and follow each other’s actions. Some ideas to start with may be waving your hands back and forth, bringing a finger to your nose, or touching hands to your toes.
  5. Using a finger labyrinth is a simple way to help bring the focus to the present.


  1. Create a family playlist (PDF) and dance to music together.
  2. Throw soft wet objects – for example, paper, sponges, or balloons – at an outside wall.
  3. Stomp on the ground or on bubble wrap.
  4. Rip up some paper. Optionally, you can write on the paper first – for example, you can put down things the child is mad about. This can also be done with a balloon: blow it up, write on it, and allow the child to stomp on it.
  5. Offer movement activities (PDF) and ways to express big feelings.


An adult and child planting a tree together
  1. Carry in your pocket a small memento that reminds you of your loved one.
  2. Create jewelry with the loved one’s name on it or inside it.
  3. Plant a tree or flower or bury a time capsule (PDF). As part of this, you could symbolize the family unit with pots or other objects, perhaps decorated with pen or paint. If creating a memory tree, you can use ribbons to represent memories and hang them off branches.
  4. Create a special area in your home to honor your loved one with photos, drawings, and items to remember them by.
  5. Create a memory box (PDF) to store special keepsakes in.
  6. Create a remembrance flower (PDF) – in the center write the name, draw a picture, or place a picture of the person who died. In each flower petal, write something special about the person or memory you have.
  7. Create a family recipe book (PDF). Include meals that remind you of your loved one and the special memories you share.

A few notes about how a child’s play may look after a death:

  • A child’s play may resume as it did before the loss. This is normal and helps the child cope with an emotionally challenging situation.
  • Children may act out a death or include ideas about death into their play. This is also normal; it helps them process the experience emotionally and make meaning out of the situation.
  • You may notice the child repeating an event again and again in their play or asking the same question(s). Children do this to make sense of a situation. Consider whether the repetition is pointing to some information that could be shared in a different way to help them better understand it. Encourage children to ask questions and share their feelings.