Tag Archive | Activity for a children’s grief support group

Letter Writing to Loved Ones

Dear Dad,

I am having a good time in third grade, but I miss you very much.  I’ve been sad a lot.  Remember how you used to call me Smiling Sammy?  I wish I could smile and be happy again.  Mrs. Cooper says it’s okay to be sad sometimes but that you would want me to be happy sometimes too.  I think she’s right.  Maybe I should start doing all the fun things I used to do, like playing with my friends and telling jokes and dancing and laughing.

I will tell Mom that she doesn’t have to be sad all the time either.  Maybe Mom can even pick berries with me like we used to do.  That might cheer her up a little.

I know that we will be okay.  I love you, Dad.  When I miss you, I know I can look around and remember the fun things we did together, and it’s kind of like you’re with me all the time.

Love, Your Smiling Sammy

-A letter that Sammy Jane wrote to her dad in

Samatha Jane’s Missing Smile by Julie Kaplow and Donna Pincus



Families will be celebrating Father’s Day this weekend.  Children will be making special cards and giving presents.  As a little girl, I remember surprising my dad with poems written in homemade cards.   However, Father’s Day can be a sad day for children who are coping with the loss of a dad.  A few months ago we read a picture book to our bereavement support group called Samantha Jane’s Missing Smile.  Grieving children often feel like Sammy Jane in the story.  Sammy Jane lost her smile when her dad died.  She struggles with guilt wondering, “Is it right to feel happy when my dad can’t be here to enjoy life?”

Mrs. Cooper, a neighborhood friend, helps Sammy Jane to remember the happy memories.  Then, Mrs. Cooper encourages her to write a letter to her dad.

After we read the story to the children, ages 7 to 10, each child had an opportunity to write a letter to a loved one who died.  Letter writing is a technique that can aid in releasing feelings that a child may be keeping inside.  Unresolved feelings of guilt and regret may occur if a child was not able to say good-bye.  Younger children will sometimes blame themselves for the death.  The child can be encouraged to write about their feelings in a letter.  Or the child may write about the events going on in his or her life.  Reading the book first was a helpful way to lead into our letter writing activity.  The children in our group identified with Sammy and the book brought up several topics to discuss.

Jane Annunziata, Psy.D. includes a Note To Parents at the end of the picture book, under Practical Techniques.  She writes, “Sometimes children find relief by expressing their feelings in nonverbal ways, including crying to “wash away” the sad feelings, artwork, (even young children can get relief from scribbling), and writing or journaling (which the child may or may not choose to share with others).  Giving the child control over the ways that feelings can be expressed is important, since the child has just endured the highly out-of-control experience of losing a parent.”

The letters they created to their loved ones were thoughtful and beautiful.  A few of the children also drew pictures in the letters. The details and pictures they added were remarkable.  I had to hold back my tears as the children shared their letters.  It is also a therapeutic technique for adults.  Letter writing is a personal experience.  The child may wish to NOT share- that is perfectly okay.   Finally, your child can choose WHAT to do with the letter.  For example, they may wish to frame it, bring it to the grave sight to read, or read the letter/then release balloons.


Father’s Day can be a day of remembrance.  A day to celebrate Dad’s life- the things he loved.  Eat his favorite ice cream, release his favorite color of balloons into the sky, take a trip to his favorite place.  Tell your child a “DAD story” that he or she has never heard before.

(I purchased Samantha Jane’s Missing Smile by Julie Kaplow and Donna Pincus from Magination Press.  Most of the books are written by mental health professionals.  Free shipping in the United States.  You can visit the website at http://www.apa.org/pubs/magination/index.aspx.)



Good night, sleep tight! Create a night-light!

“Goodnight kittens and goodnight mittens

Goodnight clocks and goodnight socks

Goodnight little house and goodnight mouse

Goodnight comb and goodnight brush

Goodnight nobody/ Goodnight mush

And Goodnight to the old lady whispering “hush”

Goodnight stars/ Goodnight air

Goodnight noises everywhere”

Excerpt from Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, 1947

I read this book to my children every night when they were babies and toddlers.  It was part of their bedtime ritual that soothed them before going to sleep.  The book was a present after the birth of my daughter.  Now that they are older, bedtime can be more difficult.  Sometimes I laugh at the craziness!   Regarding the difficulty, I’m not just talking about wanting to stay up later or needing “one more” drink of water.  I am talking about fears.  Fears of the dark and monsters that hide under the bed.  Especially for my five-year-old.  My son will ask me before going to sleep, “Mommy, are zombies real?”

I think that question originated from the zombies in Minecraft.  (His new favorite game.)  My son needs to have his Star Wars Light Saber night-light on before saying good-night.  He also has stars that project onto the ceiling.  (Something I wish they had when I was little.)   I remember having fears at his age, but I had a 10 pound dog that slept with me very single night.  Although she was the tiniest dog, I believed Sam would protect me.  She had a huge personality!  My younger sister, Melissa, also had fears as a child.  My mom and dad would put Melissa in my bed after she would go into their room during the middle of the night.  They were sneaky!

Fears are common at this age, especially with children who are grieving.  We addressed this topic in our bereavement support group by creating pillow cases in October.  We needed to have another activity on this topic.  Shari Glaskin, a wonderful facilitator in our group, created a fun activity to cope with this issue.  Our group constructed night-lights at our last meeting and it was a huge success!

We created the night-lights using mason jars with lids.  Try to find jars that have a smooth glass.  For the lights, we used battery operated tea lights.  You can find jars and tea lights at a craft store or Target.  We also used foam stickers, window markers, and sharpies.  In my opinion, the window markers were on the messy side.  However, they were washable and rinsed off easily on their hands.  The sharpies are permanent, so be careful about getting it on your clothes and hands.

After they decorated the jar, we used a small piece of Crayola modeling clay to create a holder for the tea light.  The holder will be placed on the bottom of the jar.  We made sure the tea holder fit, took the tea light out, and allowed the clay to dry.  Before they left to go home, they placed the tea lights back in their jars.  The clay does not take long to dry.

The children were so excited about their new night-lights and they were easy to make.  This would be a simple project to complete at home.  I plan on having my own kids make these on a day off from school.

Have fun making your night lights.  I promise they will be excited about going to sleep!  Please e-mail a picture of your finished night-light.  I would LOVE to post them on my website and Facebook page.  My e-mail is listed below the pictures.


E-mail pictures to patrasjoni@yahoo.com

Memory Placemats


” If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together…..there is something you must always remember.  You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.  But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart….I’ll always be with you.

-A.A.Milne (Winnie the Pooh)

The first Thanksgiving without my grandmother felt like the last piece of a puzzle was missing.  Sometimes I help my five-year-old son put together challenging puzzles.  We get to the end of the puzzle and realize that we are missing the last piece.  We look for it on the bookshelf with all of the other puzzles, but can’t seem to find it.  (My guess is that our mischievous dog, Belle, chewed it up!)

My grandma’s house looked the same during the first Thanksgiving and Christmas without her.  The house even smelled as though she lived there.  I could still smell the scent of her coffee that she made.  My grandfather put out the same tree and decorations, just as she did.  However, her absence at the dinner table was the missing piece of the puzzle.

Last year I created an activity to use with our grief support group before Thanksgiving.  For a few children, it was the first Thanksgiving without their loved one.  The children made memory placemats to use during Thanksgiving dinner or another special dinner.  One child traced his hand three times and wrote things about his mom that he missed.  A few children wrote/drew favorite hobbies and characteristics about the loved one.  They looked beautiful when they were completed!

This is an activity that a child could create for a birthday dinner or the anniversary of the death.  A child could make a placemat in honor of a parent that is deployed or hospitalized.  We used foam sheets, stickers, and paper leaves for our support group.  Use materials available around the house.  Your child could browse through magazines and cut out pictures to glue.  Scissors that make the curvy edges could add a special touch.   Before you eat dinner with your special memory placemat, everyone at the table could say a favorite memory of the loved one.

My memory of my grandma would go something like this:

“I remember how Grandma always made holiday dinners special.  She would have a favorite appetizer that my sister and I loved- black olives!  Melissa and I placed the olives on each finger, eating the entire bowl.  I will always remember a Thanksgiving when my sister and I dressed up like turkeys in our ballet leotards and tights.  We stuffed socks with toilet paper to make feathers.  (My idea, of course!)  We laughed and enjoyed every minute with our grandma.”