Losing a pet is something you never want to deal with, but unfortunately it’s part of having them. When you add kids into the mix, this can be even harder. Finding the words to talk to your kids when you’re dealing with your own grief can feel overwhelming! But this art activity can make it easier for kids to share their feelings without having to push them to talk.
When we had to say goodbye to our dog Andre after having him for almost 14 years, I learned how to do this the hard way. Even as a former child therapist, I had no idea how to talk to my kids about death. I’d never had to do it before. Plus I didn’t want to say anything that would upset them more. We had talked about our loved ones who are in heaven, but they all passed away before they were born.
My mom is a retired elementary art teacher and although I’m not as talented as her, I do have a love for art. When we don’t have the words to talk about how we’re feeling, we can use art to express ourselves and uncover emotions that we didn’t even know existed. Young children haven’t developed the words to express how they’re feeling and art is a great way to help them do that!
Using “Color Your Heart” to Process Losing A Pet
Color Your Heart is an activity that I used often in my play therapy practice. What I love about this activity is that it’s super simple and doesn’t require any artistic talent. It also helps you name your emotions, which is a great way to help kids develop empathy. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Lay The Groundwork
First, I asked my boys if they wanted to do an activity with me. Sometimes they’re really excited about doing crafty activities and sometimes it’s a struggle to get them onboard. Luckily this time they were interested and it didn’t take much convincing.
Step 2: Gather Your Supplies
Next, I got out a few sheets of blank paper and some crayons. On each sheet of paper I drew a large heart and a few small boxes to the side.
Step 3: Name Your Feelings
I started with my youngest because I knew that he was likely to copy whatever his brother said, and I wanted to get genuine answers from him. I asked him to tell me which feelings he had in his heart.
Then I told him to color in the box with the color that he thought went with that feeling. I let him know that he could choose any color he wanted for each feeling. First, he said he was happy and excited. And then he said, “Is it ok if I put one that’s not nice?”
I told him that we could write down any feelings that he was having and it didn’t matter what kind they were. So then he named worried, mad, and sad. It was important for him to get permission to express negative feelings too. People are often afraid to share these emotions, but keeping them inside is unhealthy. The earlier we can teach kids that it’s ok to have them, the better they’ll be at coping with them.
Step 4: Color It In
Once he was done listing the feelings in his heart, I asked him to color it in with the colors that showed how he was feeling.
Since he chose green for excited, he would color in a little bit of green if he was feeling a little bit excited and a lot of green if he was feeling really excited.
Step 5: Process The Feelings
As he was coloring my son started to tell me about why he chose the feelings that he did. If he didn’t, I could have given him a little encouragement to share by saying things like, “You put a lot of red! Can you tell me about that?” or “Do you want to tell me about the colors you put in your heart?”
I also had my older son do this. He had an easier time sharing why he chose the feelings that he put in his heart. I expected that though since he’s almost 3 years older!
I’m really glad that I did this activity with my boys. They both ended up telling me unprompted that they put sad in their hearts, because they were sad about our dog dying.
It gave them an easy way to get the feelings out that they were keeping bottled up. They also began to ask questions later that day about death and dying. I think this activity opened the door for them to talk about things they normally wouldn’t have. They both shared about experiences they had at school that day that I otherwise wouldn’t have known about.
Adults can do this activity too!
Just because we grow up and learn how to express our feelings doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Using art to express ourselves can be a really powerful thing. I encourage you to try art therapy yourself! You can find some easy art activities on Pinterest that don’t require a lot of supplies.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to use art to express yourself, there is a great book called Visual Journaling, by Barbara Ganim that can help you get started. This book includes simple art activities that teach help you use images instead of words to dig deeper into the part of your brain where your feelings are stored. It can help adults manage stress and anger, which is something we all need at times!
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