Grief is profoundly personal and often an overwhelming experience, in particular for children and young people. Their understanding of loss and the ability to express complex emotions associated with grief are determined by age and by developmental stages.

Creative interventions including art can help children and young people express big, complex or often the scary emotions they are feeling without needing to say the words. Whether through drawing, painting, sculpture, movement, dance or other creative methods, the arts allow young people to process their grief in a safe space that can lead to hope and healing. In the words of Picasso:

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

The Therapeutic Power of Art

Art and creative exploration is recognised as an effective tool for helping children and young people navigate their grief and can be transformative. As a therapeutic intervention, art therapy can provide a non-verbal outlet for expressing feelings and this can be crucial for those who may not have the vocabulary to articulate their grief. It also allows them to externalize their emotions, making the abstract and often confusing feelings of loss more concrete and manageable.

According to Cathy Malchiodi, a leading figure in trauma informed art therapy,

“Art making is a form of nonverbal communication, and it allows children to represent thoughts, experiences, and feelings they may not be able to verbalise.”

Art is a Safe Space

Art can create a safe space for children and young people to explore their grief. This is particularly important because grief can often feel isolating. Engaging in art can offer a sense of connection, whether through shared activities in a group setting or through the relationship with an art therapist. This sense of safety and acceptance can be crucial for children dealing with complex emotions. “Art allows children to express what’s happening in their inner worlds in a way that feels safe and supported. It provides a containment for emotions that might otherwise feel too big or overwhelming.” Cathy Malchiodi.

Although grief is unique for every child, art provides a universal tool for hope and healing. Through creative expression, children and young people can find a way to process their emotions, tell their stories, and ultimately, work their way to understand and move forward with their grief. For parents, caregivers, and professionals supporting grieving children, incorporating art into the healing process means we can offer young people the tools they need to express, cope, and grow.

Here are some practical tips for using art at home to support grieving children:

Create a Safe and Comfortable Environment

  • Ensure the space is welcoming, let the child or young person decide where to create, hold back your own thoughts on what they should explore of create.
  • Provide a variety of art supplies such as crayons, markers, paints, clay, and paper.
  • Allow children to choose their materials, giving them a sense of control and ownership.

Encourage Free Expression

  • Avoid directing the child’s artwork; let them create whatever they feel.
  • Emphasize that there is no right or wrong way to make art.
  • Validate their creations and the feelings they express through them.

Use Prompts Thoughtfully

  • If a child is unsure where to start, gentle prompts can help. For example, “Can you draw a picture of a happy memory with your special person?” or “What does your sadness look like?”
  • Prompts should be open-ended to encourage personal expression.

Be Present and Attentive

  • Sit with the child while they create, offering support and attention without intrusion.
  • Gently ask the child if they would like to talk about their artwork. Questions like “Can you tell me about your picture?” can open up conversation.
  • Reflect on the emotions and themes present in their art, helping them to understand and process their feelings.
  • Let the child or young person decide what they would like to do with their artwork.

Incorporate Storytelling

  • Encourage children to create stories about their art. This can help them articulate their experiences and emotions indirectly.
  • Storytelling can also offer a way to memorialize the lost loved one, creating a narrative that honours their memory.

Use Group Art Activities

  • If possible, involve the child in group art activities with siblings or peers who are also grieving. This can reduce feelings of isolation and foster a sense of community.
  • Group projects, such as a collaborative mural, can provide shared experiences and mutual support.

Examples of Art Activities for Grieving Children

  • Memory Box: Have the child decorate a box in which they can keep mementos or drawings related to their special person one.
  • Emotion Wheel: Create a wheel with different sections representing various emotions. The child can colour each section and discuss what each colour means to them.
  • Grief Collage: Use magazines, photos, and other materials to create a collage that represents their feelings or memories of the loved one.
  • Drawing Feelings: Provide prompts to draw different emotions, such as anger, sadness, or happiness, to help the child recognize and express their feelings.

Download our inner world poster.

Download our neon sign poster.

Seek Professional Support if Needed

If a child’s grief seems overwhelming or they are struggling significantly, consider involving an art therapist. Grief Encounter offers open art studios, art therapy and other forms of creative therapeutic intervention.  Please contact us on 0808 802 0111, weekdays 9.30am-3pm.