Memorial Day marks the first work-free weekend of summer. We often spend it with family and friends gathered around a lake, barbecue or parade. But this national holiday is more than chicken kabobs and tan lines.

For many families around America, it’s a time to grieve the loss of loved ones who served this nation. For some children, this may be the first time they’re introduced to loss. Commemorating Memorial Day with kids provides an opportunity to discuss loss and grief as a family.

Here are 5 kid-friendly ways to teach children about grief and celebrate Memorial Day.

1. SAY THANKS

As parents, we say it all the time. Use your words. We tell our children to use their words when they’re upset or overwhelmed because words can bring clarity to emotion. Although it’s simple to put feelings of frustration over not being able to eat dessert before dinner into words, when it comes to death, it’s not so simple.

To simplify the struggle to discuss loss, make it family-friendly by turning it into an activity.

Write a thank you letter with your child to the deceased veteran. In it, use words like safe, protect and love to describe your gratitude for the sacrifice they made to keep their country safe. Also, fill the letter with fond memories to show your child that death is about celebrating life.  

2. DRAW AND DISCUSS

How many of your child’s paintings do you have hung around the house? Kids love drawing, painting, and coloring. Give them paper and crayons, and they get lost in the art of creation.

Art isn’t just some pretty to look at. It’s a proven way to express feelings and emotions when words don’t suffice. So, if writing isn’t your child’s thing, teach grief through craft.

Give your little one a blank sheet of paper and the artistry tool of your choosing. Then, ask them to think about a time they lost something that meant a lot to them. This includes stuffed animals, blankies, or even loved ones. If they’ve never experienced loss, you can use a movie to help.

Example: Ask, “How do you think Anna felt when she couldn’t find Elsa in Frozen?”

Then, encourage them to create an image to express how that made them feel. Art opens up emotions some children didn’t even know they had and provides the perfect opportunity to expand the conversation about grief.

3. FLY THE FLAG

We do many things to remember fallen loved ones. On death anniversaries we visit the cemetery, gather around a dinner table, or their favorite song. These are examples of traditions we continue to keep memories alive.

Flying the American flag on Memorial Day is a powerful way to commemorate veterans. It’s also a way to introduce the idea of using ceremonious acts to honor and remember those lost. Invite your family out to have a flag raising ceremony, and end it with a moment of silence.

4. MOMENT OF SILENCE

Speaking of a moment of silence, it can seem like an odd custom to children, and you can’t blame them. Think about it. How often do you see a group of people in complete stillness and quiet? Not often.

Other than playing the “quiet game” your kids have probably never mindfully sat is silence, so don’t start your moment of silence without clarifying the custom first.

A moment of silence is a time to pray, reflect, or reminisce. It’s an action taken to show respect or mourn loss. Teach children about the benefits of thinking about loss in addition to discussing it.  

5. SEND SWEETS OVERSEAS

When you think of grief, the last thing you think of is life. Oddly enough, an effective way to teach children about grief is to teach them how to celebrate life.

How do you celebrate life on Memorial Day?

Take a free afternoon, and put together a care package with the kiddos. Before gathering all the goods, chat about the importance of spending quality time with those you love. Ask your child what activities they enjoy doing with friends and family, and explain that it’s important to cherish time together.

Then, fill the basket with goodies based on your little one’s favorite activities. Send books, CDs, adult coloring books, and treats to active members overseas so they too can have a slice.

Before the holiday ends, take time to teach your child about grief this Memorial Day.

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