Using Play to Cope with Grief

Grief and play may not seem to go together! However, children naturally use play to express the confusing emotions that come with grief.  I am not a registered play therapist but have used the concept of play with my clients (of all ages) to help them process grief and mourning.  

Dr. Alan Wolfelt talks about the difference between grief and mourning. He states that grief is the internal thoughts we have on grief, but mourning is grief gone public-it is the outward expression of grief.  

I like to say that play is a great way to facilitate mourning! We may not have the tools to verbally describe our loss. However, I hope that the following activities might be a helpful way to utilize play with grieving clients. These ideas are short, simple, and don’t require any additional costs to the counselor.  They are not an exhaustive list but can be a fun way to get started in using play with grieving clients! 

  • Idea number 1- Playing feeling musical chairs, when the music stops the individual who “loses” will be asked to share an emotion they have encountered during their loss. 
  • Idea number 2-Develop dance moves that depict different feelings that you’ve had in grief. This movement can be playful and might induce giggles 😊 
  • Idea number 3- Grief tic tac toe- played with a counselor, each time a student  
    “wins” they will be asked to share a coping resource and IF they lose the game, they must share with their counselor something that has felt hard in their grief.   
  • Idea number 4-Students will answer the following questions: 
    • If your grief was an animal, what would it be? 
    • If your grief was a color, what would it be? 
    • If your grief was a season, what would it be? 
    • If your grief was a song, what would it be? 

We hope that these get you started on how you can incorporate play into your work with grieving children! Let us know what you think of these and what ideas you might have!  

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