Helping Children Remember Loved Ones Who Have Passed

Article by: Steffanie Strawbridge, LCSW-S

While December can be a time of great joy as we celebrate Chanukah, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve or many other special days in the month, for many it is a time of great sadness as they remember loved ones that have passed. The second Sunday in December is Worldwide Candle Lighting Day ( to remember children that have died. Thinking about lighting candles as a way of remembering loved ones brings up the thoughts of how we help children celebrate and remember those that they have lost in a healthy way. 

Whether the loss is within the last year, and this is the first December without a loved one or the loss was years ago, December for many children is hard emotionally. Helping children find a way of expressing their feelings and staying connected to the loved one can be incredibly helpful. Adults cannot “make it better” for the child and some December months will be harder than others. Included below are a few activities that can help the child express their feelings and feel a connection to the lost loved one.

Sending Messages:

While for many, prayers are a way of sending their thoughts and wishes to a divine being and those who have died, others need more tangible or creative ways to send messages to loved ones. Writing messages on white paper and folding it into a ship or whale and setting it afloat on a body of water

( is one way to send our thoughts and feelings to those who have died. If you are up for a longer project, you can make paper with flower seeds blended in that messages can be written on and left at a place of significance such as the cemetery or a favorite outdoor spot ( As the card biodegrades and the seeds fall and hopefully will start producing flowers. Also, bubbles are great for sending messages! You close your eyes and think about what you want to say and then you blow the bubble. When the bubble pops, the message gets sent.

** While writing on balloons or sky lanterns feels like a good idea and would fit in this type of remembrance, they are not environmentally safe. Even those that claim to be biodegradable are not truly environmentally friendly. **

Collecting memories:

Helping a child create a collage is a great way to talk about the loved one and share memories. While talking can make us feel sad at first, it helps us release many of the overwhelming emotions such as sadness, anger, blame, shame and even feelings of abandonment. Often when children talk to adults about losses, they realize that they are not alone and that it is okay to have these feelings, just like it is okay to have times when you feel happy, silly, and excited. Collages can be done on paper, poster board or even paper mâché boxes (you do not have to make the boxes; they can be purchased at most craft stores). Boxes can also act as a place for children to keep mementos from the loved one. You

can also ask families members and friends of the loved one who has died to write out a memory and if possible, include a copy of a picture. Then you and the child can choose a memory a day to read together and then place in an album for them to look through in the future.

Decorating a stone:

Whether you choose a small river stone (normally black and smooth, about the size of a child’s palm) or a large stepping stone, decorating a stone in honor of someone is a great way of remembering a loved one. Your child can create a rock garden or line a small space outside with river stones that are painted or decorated with things that their loved one enjoyed or connected them to their loved one. They can also just make one or two that they keep in their bedroom to remember. As for stepping stones, you can go as elaborate as using mosaic tiles as well as other supplies to create an ornate stone or as simple as using a stick (or your finger) to write a message in the wet mixture before the stone sets.

Volunteering in their name:

Many people will ask for donations to an organization in place of flowers for a funeral or memorial service. Money is not the only way you can donate; you can also donate time and skills. Especially with older children and teens, volunteering for an organization that was close to a loved one’s heart can be a great way to honor a person who has died. Volunteering can also look like many different schedules and not necessarily a large commitment. In December, many people look for ways to give back and this would be one way of giving back and honoring someone.

Reading stories:

While there are many books for kids about death and grief (When Dinosaurs Die, The Goodbye Book, Sad Isn’t Bad, etc.) specifically, there are also many books that are more about staying connected to those we love who are away. Reading books that are not specifically about death allows children to talk about the loss if that is what is on their mind or talk about other loved ones or memories. Some children’s books that are wonderful at opening communication and allowing children to process at their own speed are:

  • The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
  • Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman
  • Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng
  • Memory Jars by Vera Brosgol

No matter what you choose, the simple act of remembering and doing something in remembrance are what help children through the hard times. No matter what age you are, losing a loved one is hard, and we appreciate those who take the time to help us hold onto our memories and recognize our special connection to those loved ones.

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