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Family activities

  • These projects are designed for you and your children to do together. The structure of each project is the same; only the focus or topic differs. Before doing any project, be sure to read the instructions below.

    1. Drawing our grief

    After her husband's death, Jeanne Ritterson found that drawing pictures helped her daughter and son share complex feelings they hadn't expressed before. 
    Read more.
    Do project.

    2. Commemorating a loved one

    As a grieving parent, Jackie O'Neil Sandusky learned how rituals became an important part of her family’s grieving process.
    Read more. 
    Do project.

    3. Having the energy to help your child

    After her father died unexpectedly, Cheryl Downey felt like she was "floating" through the normal daily tasks of raising her daughter.
    Read more.
    Do project.

    4. How children understand death

    Understanding that each child is unique, Psychologist Gail Noller describes how children perceive death at different ages.
    Read more.
    Do project.

    You know your children best. After you have tried the projects provided, you may want to create some of your own. Depending on the month, the anniversaries at hand and the ages of your children, you can design topics to help them tap their most pressing feelings.

    How to use family art projects instructions

    Refer to these instructions each time you decide to do a family art project. For the greatest benefit, set aside at least one hour of uninterrupted time to draw, talk and relax together.

    1. Plan. Designate 60 to 90 minutes each week as a time for you and your children to relax and complete an art project together.

    2. Set up. Gather supplies, including paper and crayons, markers, paints etc. Consider having a snack ready for afterward.

    3. Start. Talk with your children for a minute or two about the topic of the art project. Read the open-ended sentence and invite them to think about the sentence for a minute, repeat the sentence if needed. Ask them to draw a picture that completes the sentence. Assure your children that they may draw using any colors or style they like. While your children draw, draw your own picture to complete the sentence. If while drawing, tears flow or you feel angry, do not hesitate to express these feelings as part of your drawing.

    4. Summarize. Tell your children that you have some questions (See art project) for them to answer about their drawings. On the back of their drawings, have your children write the question number, then a word to two in response to each of the interview sentences. For younger children, do the writing for them on the back of their picture. Date each picture and number it so in the future you can see how they worked through their grief.

    5. Share. Invite your children to share their drawings by talking about what they drew and/or about their answers to interview questions. Do not insist that they share and be willing to share your work first if that will help to engage their participation. It may be helpful to first share your work and then to ask for their reactions. After talking about your drawing, family members may be more willing to talk about their own work. As you or your children share, others may want to respond. As long as the artist’s interpretation is respected as his or her own, it is appropriate to allow others to share the thoughts the work inspires.

    6. Relax. After sharing, collect all the drawings. Save them for your children, along with future drawings. Together these will make a journal that can help your children recall their grief process. Spend more time with your children. If they want to continue the conversation, listen. If they are finished talking, consider changing the pace with games, videos, a snack, dancing, singing, or some other fun and rewarding activity.

  • Source: Jeanne D. Ritterson; Jackie O'Neil Sandusky, coordinator of pre-school, children and teen grief support groups, Mercy Hospital; Cheryl Downey, M Div, chaplain, Allina Hospice & Palliative Care; Gail Noller, LCSW, MA, PsyD, LP, Northtown Psychological Associates
    Reviewed by: Judy Young, MEd, Allina Hospice & Palliative Care
    First published: 11/02/1998
    Last reviewed: 11/02/2004