How to Help Support Children with Grief Dreams

Astronaut toy laying in bed, reaching out, in front of a moon and a pink and purple sunset

Have you ever had someone significant die and after they died you had a dream about them? That is a grief dream and is something that comes up often when supporting children, youth, and adults with grief and loss. Bereavement, or grief and loss, can bring about sometimes vivid and possibly even frightening grief dreams.

I want to share with you an activity that I have been using for years in supporting children, youth, and adults in grief and loss. This activity may help to process grief dreams or process not having any grief dreams when you hope and wish you would.

In this activity, you will connect with all the things that bring you joy. You will get to incorporate your senses to help make this activity calming, memorable, and hopefully helpful!  

Astronaut toy waking up in bed. Behind them are a dragonfly and butterfly made out of stained glass and a bright sunshine through the trees

How I First Learned about Grief Dreams

*First, I would like you to know that I have permission to share this story*

A long time ago, I worked with a child who was experiencing a daily recurring grief dream that they described as a frightening nightmare. Interestingly, a short time before that, I luckily got to attend a wonderful workshop by Dr. Joshua Black and Jade Karling Black.

They presented on the topic of grief dreams. At this workshop, I got to take part in a powerful experiential activity where I wrote out my ideal grief dream using the Grief Dreams: Dream Builder Worksheet which is a fantastic grief resource created by Dr. Joshua Black.

4 miniature toys with crayons in their hands filling out the Grief Dreams: Dream Builder Worksheet together on an office table

I loved this activity as it reminded me of one of my favourite activities that I invite children, youth, and adults to try in counselling and play therapy, which is making an image of their “Best Place EVER!!!”.

In this coping activity, people may choose to create an image (through drawing, painting, collage, or even with miniature figurines) of an environment that is calming to them. Then they may try to involve as many senses as they can such as smell, sound, and sight, in their image. If they would like, they can add in items that represent all the things that make them feel joy.

I explain that it may be helpful to think of this image when we are overwhelmed. Hopefully thinking of an image that incorporates our senses with all our favourite things may help to calm our nervous system.

4 miniature toys painting one canvas with the image of Dallas’ Best Place Ever

Trying Out Grief Activities Myself Beforehand

Because I never suggest activities in children’s grief support before I try them myself, some time ago, I created my own Best Place EVER!!! which has evolved over the years. My best place ever and ideal grief dream is in a forest. There are trees from every season all around with sunshine glowing through the trees and a gentle breeze. On the trees grow Wild Berry Skittles.

The astronaut miniature in sitting in a forest. They are surrounded by dogs and a cat and sitting in front of a cabin and Wild Berry Skittles trees

There is a lake that smells of lavender with some of my loved ones who have died. They are laughing by the lavender lake. I can also smell the campfire where other loved ones, both living and dead, are talking, singing, dancing, and having all kinds of fun!!

4 miniature toys laughing by a lavender lake with a campfire and two toys sitting by a campfire. In the distance is much of the candy filled Best Place Ever

There is an everlasting breakfast buffet on the west side of the forest and an everlasting dessert buffet on the east side. Everything tastes super delicious and is very healthy for you too 😊 There are chocolate rock walkways (which never seem to get dirty and are safe to eat).

There is fresh fruit all around and a beautiful garden full of all my favourite vegetables. There is a crystal clear waterfall that provides safe drinking water. Flowers fill the space with colour as does the rainbow that shades the cotton candy clouds.

4 miniatures sit on rocks near a rainbow providing shade for cotton candy clouds. There are flowers, fruit, a willow tree, spring tree, and a tree with Skittles

Everyone that I love is there including every animal that has held space in my heart over the years. There is also a safe space I can go to within my best place ever that is just for me, or I can invite some people to join me. In this space is a television, Lego video games, and Super Nintendo video games, an arts and crafts studio, enough space to dance, and a space to rest, stretch, and relax.

A scuba diving miniature is laying in bed in the space that is just for Dallas. Multiple doors go to the various spaces such as the arts and crafts studio

What I Found Most Helpful in this Activity

The more detail I came up with, the easier it was to remember this image in times when I was feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty accessing my prefrontal cortex, or front part of my brain, which among many other functions helps to organize thoughts and helps us think clearly.

Also, visualizing the image in great detail and adding in our hopes and wishes for what we dream could be in our best place ever, may support the further engagement of our senses to help relax our nervous system even more.

An image made of miniatures in two sand trays of Dallas’s Best Place Ever. The upper sand tray is the main space and the lower is the space just for Dallas

Witnessing the Impact of Creating an Ideal Grief Dream

So, back to the child, I was working with long ago. I explained to them about the Grief Dreams: Dream Builder Worksheet and explained about the Best Place EVER!!! and asked if they would like to first write out what their ideal grief dream would be and then create an image of that dream.

While they created, we talked about where the best place to put this image would be. They decided to place it where they could see it if they were to wake up from another nightmare. After two weeks of looking at the image, when they woke up from the recurring nightmare, they remarked that the dream had changed and was less frightening. After two more weeks, the nightmare had stopped.

How I Integrate Grief Dreams into Resources for Grief and Loss

After many more similar experiences with bereaved people of all ages in children’s grief counselling, at grief and loss workshops, and working with grieving families, I began to incorporate this activity into the 8-week children’s grief groups that I co-facilitate.

I introduce the subject of grief dreams by reading a book created by Dr. Joshua Black and Deborah Stapleford. Dreaming of Owl is a wonderful story that helps address the subject of grief dreams. It follows one fox who experiences a grief dream and another who does not and how they cope with that experience. The story is beautifully told and has lovely hand-painted illustrations!

The book cover for Dreaming of Owl. In finger painting, there is a blue sky and one red fox sitting on rocks while an orange fox sleeps just below

This is one of my favourite children’s grief books and one of the best books about grief dreams. This resource may be helpful for those young and old who are experiencing grief and loss as well as those who experience grief dreams and those who do not. If you would like to check this book out, click here.

Conclusion

After many years now of bringing up the subject of grief dreams and inviting people to try experiential activities like creating their ideal grief dream, I can say that it seems to have been quite helpful for many people when they are grieving the loss of a loved one or someone that was significant in their life.

For children, this activity may be helpful because often play and art is their “language” in that it is a natural way that they communicate thoughts and feelings.

For teens, creating their best place ever or ideal grief dream may be helpful as art may be an easier way of expressing feelings. It can sometimes be hard to find the words to describe the depth of our feelings.

For adults, this activity may be helpful because it may create an opportunity to connect to joyous parts of our lives. It may also allow us to engage in play and art which are so rarely offered in support with adults. Counsellors often use a “talk therapy” approach with adults which has us remain in the more logical brain parts of our brain; trying to reason with our feelings.

Activities such as using miniatures to create a scene or a story, painting, drawing, and other expressive activities, may help us to activate our senses and the parts of our brain which are more connected to our deep-felt feelings.

Try to Keep this in Mind When Supporting Others with Grief and Loss

Everyone has preferred ways of processing feelings of grief. They may also choose to express themselves in various ways. For these reasons, this activity may not work well for everyone. While I am alongside those in counselling sessions or in groups, I am clear to share that everyone can choose to try the activities I share, they may adapt the activities, or they may try something completely different if that feels best for them.   

2 miniatures are painting with paint behind them, a table with two easels, a paint brush and palette, while 2 miniatures throw a ball of emotions back and forth

I hope this activity is helpful for you or someone you know.

To Learn More About Grief Dreams

If you are interested in learning more, click here or check out the Grief Dreams Podcast that currently has more than 200 episodes! If you are interested in hearing more of my thoughts on grief dreams and supporting children with grief and loss, you can find me on episode 71 😊 Thank you to Dr. Joshua Black and to Jade Karling Black for bringing education and awareness to the grief dreams we may or may not experience. 

A green bed in water with 2 clouds and a starry night sky behind it. Below the bed are the words "Grief Dreams" written in a wavy font.
Grief Dreams Podcast Logo

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Supporting Children with Grief and Loss