Help Children Express Their Grief: The Acrostic Name Game

This hands-on activity can help your child during a difficult time

Acrostic puzzle using "Mother"
The acrostic "name game" offers an opportunity to help children express their feelings after a death occurs. Photo © Chris Raymond

When the death of a family member, classmate or friend occurs, parents, guardians and other caregivers often overlook or even dismiss the genuine feelings of sadness and sorrow felt by children after the loss, regardless of their age. This article explains how you can play an acrostic "name game" with your child, a hands-on activity designed to help him or her express grief in order to better cope with the death of a loved one.

Benefits of the Acrostic Name Game

Adult grievers often find great comfort in their existing grief support network, i.e., other family members and friends willing to provide the gift of their physical presence and a listening ear if/when the bereaved need to talk. Because of their age and inexperience, however, many children simply know they hurt inside but do not realize that they can turn to their parents, a guardian or a loving caregiver for help (or they might not feel comfortable doing so).

The acrostic name game not only offers a creative way for your child to express his or her feelings about the person who died but can also encourage the open sharing of thoughts, memories, and emotions so often necessary for the healthy processing of grief.

Moreover, this activity can also provide an important life lesson about the reality of death and how to effectively cope, which will benefit your child in the future when he or she experiences another death of a loved one.

How to Play the Acrostic Name Game

Materials You Will Need: White or colored paper; pencils, pens, colored pencils, crayons and/or markers. You might also provide glue, adhesive tape, a scissors, glitter, etc. if your child wishes to further decorate this project.

Age Range: This activity is appropriate for children age 5+.

Time Required: At least 30 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time, but ideally 60+ minutes.

How to Use: Invite your child to join you at a table with the materials placed between you. Explain that you will both create a special tribute to the person who died by writing his or her name vertically on a sheet of paper before using each letter within a word or phrase to describe a special quality he or she had, something involved in a happy memory, or to express how you feel about the person who died (as shown in the image above, for example).

If your child struggles to think of a term or phrase that fits a needed letter, ask him or her to describe their feelings about the deceased and then offer a suggestion or two that would work instead of simply telling the child what to write down. The purpose of this activity is to provide a guided, structured opportunity for your child to express what he or she feels about the death of a loved one and, ultimately, to talk about those feelings with you -- not to complete the project quickly or to temporarily distract your child from his or her grief by giving him or her something to do.

Pay attention to the words or phrases your child chooses, and whether he or she has difficulty thinking of a word or phrase. Use these observations as a means to start a conversation that encourages the open sharing of thoughts, memories, and emotions.

After you both finish, exchange your acrostics for review and continue (or initiate) a conversation by either asking your child why he or she used "Teddy Bear" for the letter T, for example, or explaining what made you choose the phrase "Big Smile" for the first letter of "Bob" (or whatever the case might be). The purpose here is to encourage your child to share his or her thoughts and feelings, which conveys the powerful life lesson that it's perfectly natural to talk about the death of a loved one; to gain insight into your child's grief response to the recent death; and to reinforce that your son or daughter should not feel alone at this time.

Finally, after discussing how your child feels about your loved one's death, you might also suggest that he or she continue decorating the page if desired and/or ask what to do with his or her finished project. You might, for example, propose the idea of placing it in a frame and hanging it somewhere within your home; presenting it as a gift to another griever; posting a photograph online via social media; placing it within a memory box or incorporating it within a memory collage, etc.

Additional Related Reading:
How to Talk to Kids About Death
The Needs of Grieving Children
Grief Books for Children

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Article Sources
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  2. Hospice Foundation of America. Support groups.

  3. Vanderbilt University. Teaching your child to identify and express emotions.

  4. Lancaster J. Developmental stages, grief, and a child's response to deathPediatr Ann. 2011;40(5):277–281. doi:10.3928/00904481-20110412-09