Remembering Ornament: A Holiday Grief Activity for Kids & Teens

Holidays and Special Days / Holidays and Special Days : Litsa Williams

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A couple things you should know about the WYG gals before diving into today's post.

1) We are notoriously terrible at arts and crafts.

2) One of us loves kids, one of us does not.

So, today we are talking about a holiday grief activity for grieving children that I promise is cheap and simple.  Now, just so we're clear, I am the WYGer who does not love children.  I should have a permanent feature on pintrosity, because every time I try to craft my dog ends up covered in glue and whatever I make looks like it came out of a kindergarten classroom.  Oh, and I am NOT a holiday person.  Not before the losses I have gone through, not after.

I put that out there because it is important you know that anyone, and I do mean anyone, can pull together a meaningful holiday grief activity to support a child or teen.  As the holiday season moves into full swing, consider how you can open up the conversation with the kids in your life about their emotions this holiday.  Art activities, like the one we have for you today, can be a great way to open up the conversation.

If you are unsure what to expect from grieving children of different ages, check out our post on childhood development and grief.  The beauty of our activity today is that it works for young kids, who may just be working on identifying feelings, all the way through teens who may enjoy creating a meaningful memorial to be part of your holiday decor.  And, let's be honest, this is actually a great activity for adults too!  Let's get to it.  Today we are making holiday ornaments, filled with feelings and memories and whatever else we want to stuff inside!


kids holiday grief activity 6

1) Tons of ribbon, in whatever colors you love.  Buy at least six colors if you are doing the activity with young children, ten or more if you are doing it with older kids.

kids holiday grief activity 5

2)  Clear ornaments, the type you can open.  I got mine at Michaels, where they had both glass and plastic.  I went with plastic because, you know, kids.

3) Strips of paper, whatever colors you like, cut thin.  If you are doing this with kids who would rather draw than write, cut the paper in squares instead of strips.

4) Beads, stars, snowflakes, or whatever other small shiny objects you can dig up at the craft store.  The rules are loose around here.

5) Markers, pens or colored pencils.

Set Up

1) Cut all the ribbon up into six-inch segments.

2) Talk with kids about all the different emotions they feel when they are thinking about the person they have lost and make a list.  Some common emotions with young kids may be sad, lonely, happy, scared, mad, love etc. For older kids, there may be more emotions, like yearning, guilt, regret, hope, yearning, anger, etc.

kids holiday grief activity 4

3) Assign each emotion to a different color ribbon and lay them all out on a table, with labels.

4) Lay out your shiny objects, whatever they may be, and label them 'memories'.

5) Lay out your strips of paper with markers, pens or colored pencils.

Go For It

Give each child an ornament.  Explain that each ribbon is a different emotion and they should fill the ornament with the different emotions they feel when they think about the person they have lost.  This is a great time to talk with younger kids about feelings and help them understand that they may be feeling a wide range of different feelings, and that is okay.

Explain next that the beads represent memories.  Encourage kids to think about different holiday memories they have of the person they have lost.  For each memory have them drop a bead into the ornament.  This is a great opportunity to share memories together, but if kids don't want to share that is okay too - don't push too hard.  For kids who are younger and may have fewer holiday memories, you may want to make this any memory.  You could also use this as a way for you to share a memory with the child, then add a bead for each story you share with them.

Finally, allow kids to write or draw anything they would like on the strip of paper.  This could be a message to the person who died, a memory, or whatever else they wish.  When they are done, add the paper to the ornament and close it up.  Tie a ribbon to the top and you are all done!  It's that easy.

kids holiday grief activity 2

This is one of many ways you can acknowledge grief and tough feelings during the holiday with kids, share memories of those we have lost, and make some adorable ornaments to boot!

Don't love this as a holiday ornament?  No problem! Hang it in the window and it can be a decoration any time of year.

kids holiday grief activity
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

Let’s be grief friends.

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14 Comments on "Remembering Ornament: A Holiday Grief Activity for Kids & Teens"

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  1. Amanda  December 11, 2019 at 8:43 am Reply

    My 17 year old grandson was killed in a car accident on November 16th. My granddaughter is 6 years old and is having a hard time talking about her brother or her feelings. This is a great activity for us to do as a family! We are trying to celebrate Christmas without feeling very festive. Thank you for the inspiration.

  2. Mo Willis  December 7, 2019 at 9:23 am Reply

    Thinking of doing this with my coworkers, so many losses recently, professional (because we’re geriatric care managers) and personal (because we’re humans). I have a tree of life that we tie Robbins to in honor of each life that has touched us, but sometimes it’sa loot more complicated. Thanks for the idea!

  3. Ximena  December 2, 2019 at 10:20 am Reply

    I will be trying this with my family. Great idea.

  4. Barb  December 19, 2018 at 6:39 pm Reply

    I’d have to keep list of what colors/items symbolized. Grief brain has destroyed my memory

  5. Amanda  November 9, 2017 at 1:17 pm Reply

    Is it possible to turn this craft into an art therapy craft? What should I change?

  6. Amanda  November 9, 2017 at 1:17 pm Reply

    Is it possible to turn this craft into an art therapy craft? What should I change?

  7. Martha Saucedo  December 24, 2015 at 7:49 pm Reply

    My family and I did this today; today 2 years ago we lost my wonderful dad. I have a 15 yr old & 8 yr old that did this & it was really great! They both broke down crying but we laughed cried & shared so many memories I believe that it was much needed since it’s difficult for both of them to express themselves. Every year we celebrate & remember him by having his favorite dinner & breakfast. Last year we painted bird houses in his memory I’m so glad this year I found this thank you!

  8. Kalene Sharstrom, LAMFT  December 23, 2015 at 12:35 pm Reply

    I did a modified version of this with a therapy group of adolescents at a psychiatric residential treatment center. Our art store was out of ornaments, so I used the clear favor boxes that you’d put candy in at weddings. The teens loved it and it allowed them to express the mixed emotions many of them were feeling (some had passes home, some had to stay at the center during the holidays). I also had two “wild card” ribbons that they could use for emotions that I didn’t assign a color to.

    I do a lot of processing questions with the group, so we talked about:
    -How we might add or remove feelings as we grew and experienced more in our lives.
    -How we can take care of ourselves if our boxes become filled with unwanted emotions.
    -How our boxes might influence how we talk to others about the holidays (and how we can be mindful of the experiences of others)

    • Angela  December 5, 2016 at 11:11 pm Reply

      I’m struggling with my teen right now on issues with her emotions. This is a great idea!

  9. Amber  December 17, 2015 at 12:48 pm Reply

    I work with children in foster care and I did this with one of my kids yesterday. It went really well and she loved it! Thanks so much for the idea!

    • Eleanor  December 21, 2015 at 9:47 am Reply

      I’m so glad to hear that the activity went well!! Thanks for letting us know.

  10. Michaelle Leone  December 11, 2014 at 5:01 pm Reply

    What an interesting idea! My father-in-law passed away on Halloween this year. He was the “fun” Pop-pop to my two daughters, ages 12 and 9. The 9yo had a very special bond with him and took his passing very hard. Things are getting better for now, but I think this would be a great way to honor him. Thanks for the idea.

  11. Megan McEuen  December 11, 2014 at 4:22 pm Reply

    A family member sent this to me today after I had expressed on Facebook that my 11 year old is struggling with her emotions after the loss of my mom 1 month ago. It finally hit her that her nana is gone

    We used the ribbons and then wrote lots of memories on strips of paper of nana. My husband and 14 year old son only did 1 each. My daughter and I made 2 each and want to do more. This was a very unique time together and I will cherish these ornaments. Thank you!

  12. z  December 10, 2014 at 12:06 pm Reply

    This is such a cool idea, thanks. I don’t have kids, but I can see adults doing this as well. And I think of so many other things that you could put in there……some of the fur from your dog who died; a small photo if it could be rolled up and tucked in the hole; tiny charms; scraps of cloth from someone’s shirt, maybe; sand from the beach if your loved one loved the beach…..the possibilities are many and varied and only limited by what will fit in the little hole of the ornament.

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