Children grieve too but they do this differently than adults. Unlike adults, children have a limited ability to express their feelings, thoughts and memories verbally. Alternatively, play can be an effective and safe way for them to give messages on how they feel.
Bonnie Jansen, who teaches at a primary school in the Netherlands and has been trained as a play-therapist, developed the DAG-Box (‘Goodbye-box’) to help young children process thoughts and feelings when they experience a death or another upsetting event.
The Goodbye-box is a collection of twenty wooden human figures, a coffin, tiles and miniature blocks, starts, hearts, flowers, an emotion dice, a music box, a tea light holder and a photo/card holder. All hand painted in soft colours.
Goodbye-box (c) Bonnie Jansen, www.dagbox.nl
I had the privilege to meet Bonnie, and to buy one of her Goodbye-boxes. I asked her how the Goodbye-box helps children grieve.
What is the Goodbye-box?
“The box helps young children to play out emotional and distressing situations. Unlike adults, children don’t tend to express themselves verbally. They rather convey messages and share feelings through play. The Goodbye-box helps them to express thoughts and feelings that arise when someone they love, dies.”
How did it start?
“After the death of my mother my daughter was very upset about her grandmother’s death. The funeral was a very overwhelming experience for her and she did not understand everything that happened. I wanted to support her, but couldn’t find something that helped her express her own thoughts and feelings. We found some books that were lovely, but not representing our story. Therefore, we decided to make something ourselves. I hand painted a set of wooden human figures and miniature objects for my daughter to play out her grandmother’s funeral.
I wanted to create something in soft, friendly colours. Not the usual black that is often associated with funerals. I deliberately chose neutral human figures, with no face and skin colour so children can project their own ideas onto them.”
How does the Goodbye-box help?
“My daughter has played our her grandmother’s funeral a few times. It has helped her to understand what it means that her grandmother has died and to reduce her fears.
The box not only helps children after a funeral, it also helps prepare for a death. A terminally ill mother bought the box for her four-year old son to prepare him for her death and funeral. They painted the miniature coffin and talked about what he wanted for the funeral.
Creating the box, and hand painting the wooden figures has helped me too in my grieving process. Every time I work on a Goodbye-box, I think of my mother. It’s a beautiful tribute to her.”
What tips do you have for using the box?
“There are no rules. The idea is for children to explore the box intuitively and to take the lead. They choose what figures they would like to use, what they would like to play and for how long. An adult or therapist may observe and ask open questions without providing answers or solutions.
The play could start by lighting the candle and asking the child how it feels, using the emotion dice. When they play is finished, the child may blow out the candle and tell how it feels at that point in time.
It’s important to keep the play intact until the child has left the room so the child will remember this image. A photo can be taken which provides the opportunity to talk about the image with the child at a later stage.”
Below, a few stories of children who played with the box.
“I have decorated the coffin and people are standing around it. They are sad. There is music.”
“This is a party for somebody’s life. Two people are giving a speech.”
“People are carrying grandad to the flames.”
For everyone with a big heart for children
Since the first box Bonnie has made over 40 Goodbye-boxes, and sold them to families, teachers, therapists, funeral directors, coaches and others. The Goodbye-box is not available in shops. Bonnie makes them upon request for ‘everyone with a big heart for children’.
Borrow the box!
I have bought a Goodbye-box and lend it to families who would like to help their child(ren) prepare for a funeral or process feelings and thoughts after a funeral. Please get in touch for more information.
More information about the DAG-box can be found here.
If you’d like to learn more on how to include children in funerals, please refer to this article that I wrote for The Celebrant Directory.