The Sad Bag: A Coping Skills Bag DIY For Grief and Loss by Jeanette Yoffe, M.F.T. Adoption

 July 3

by admin

“Things to do when I feel sad to make my broken heart feel glad!”

AGE RANGE: 3-12 suggested

GOAL: To help a child to utilize coping skills when he/she feels sad emotionally suffering from grief and loss in order to learn how to problem-solve and regulate themselves on their own.  

THERAPEUTIC for:  Child and Family.

SYMPTOM REDUCTION: Feeling sad, depressed, or hopeless.  

SYMPTOM INCREASE: Self-awareness, self-esteem, self-regulation, and self-control. 


1 Bag with Handles (Link to order your own Canvas Bags)

CHOOSE 3 that work for your Child

Tear Pillow
Magical Wish Journal
Paper to draw with crayons
Small Photo Album
1 pack of Guatemalan Worry Dolls or Popsicle Sticks & Yarn
8 Index Cards for Sad Busters


Introduce the task by explaining to the child that he/she is going to help the child manage their “sad” feelings with the use of a special bag they will explore and create together. Continue to explain that within the bag there will be special skills for him/her to do when they have these feelings and don’t know how to express them. The order is not important.  

Tear Pillow: Provide the child with a blank pillowcase and permanent markers, supervised of course. Explain that the tear pillow is used to help a child express their sadness verbally and to be used for self-comfort and care. The child can write on the pillow “My Sad Pillow” and draw whatever they need to. Some children have made “a big cloud with a rainbow, with teardrops in it” and the child can rest their head on the cloud to “help hold their tears.” The parent/therapist/social worker can demonstrate first by placing their face in the middle of the pillow and start by making sounds of sadness i.e. sighing, boo-hoo-ing, modeling crying, all the while encouraging the child to express their feelings. Then as the child begins to feel more comfortable he/she can say words such as “I am sad” or “It’s not fair” or “I am hurt” or “I feel sad.” The child can keep the pillow on their bed to comfort them.

Magical Wish Journal: Provide the child with a journal or note pad. The journal is used as a diary to express sad feelings. The child is told that the Magical journal can bring magic into their life when they write down their wishes. Whenever they write their wishes into their journal amazing things will happen, the angels will hear them and angels can only listen to Magic Wish journals. Sometimes so many angels hear them and their wishes come true. If the child wishes for a loved one to return, reassure the child “the angels will let them know how much they love them and miss them. And they will ask the angels to watch over them to keep them safe.”

Paper to Draw: Provide the child with a drawing pad and crayons. Write on the front of the book PAPER TO DRAW MY SAD FEELINGS. The child is told the “Paper to Draw” is used to draw pictures about their sad feelings. The child can draw pictures of the person and event and/or write words that express his/her grief, loss, and pain. 

Small Photo Album: Provide the child with a small photo album and photos or clippings of beautiful/soothing photos i.e. beautiful flowers, animals, children hugging, smiling faces etc. The photo album is used for the child to put pictures of people and/or things that make him/her happy. This can be “real” pictures of loved ones in their life or pictures of persons/places/things from magazines i.e. cartoon characters, flowers, funny pictures. The child can title the album i.e. “Things that make me smile” “The people who love me in my life.” “I am always loved.” “I can be happy.”

1 pack of Guatemalan Worry Dolls or make your own with Popsicle Sticks and Yarn: Provide the child with worry dolls or popsicle sticks that they can draw faces on and wrap yarn around. Explain that these “worry dolls” can be used to express their concerns, worries, and fears. I like to introduce the dolls as “powerful Friends,” who can help us with our feelings but we have to tell them what we are upset about one by one so that they can discuss it that evening. The “powerful friends” must be placed under their pillow while they are sleeping and if they listen really hard they can hear them talking their sadness away and when they wake up in the morning they will feel better.

Bubbles Blow-away-disappear technique: Provide the child with the bubbles. Explain that the bubbles are used for blowing their feelings “out of their body that they have been holding onto.” The child is instructed to sit down in a chair while performing this task. He/she is going to imagine seeing the stressful/sad feelings enter the bubble and then disappear when it pops. Encourage the child to focus, feel the lightness of the bubble gliding within their control. Each bubble he/she blows they watch until it pops so that the child begins to regain focus and internalize a sense of calm and peace. 

Sad Busters: Provide the child with 10 index cards. Explain to the child that with the help of their parent/therapist/social worker they will create 3-8 “sad busters” which will help them manage their sad feelings. They will write or draw a picture of a “sad buster” on each card. These are stored in the bag and the child is told he/she can reach in the bag and pick one out at any time and they will tell him/her what to do with their feelings. 

Examples of Sad Busters are: 

1. CROSS my ARMS around my body and give myself a big, BIG HUG!!!
2. SAY the TONGUE twister: “Silly sally, sang dilly-dallies sitting on a swing.” OUT LOUD 10 times!!!
3. CRY on my Tear Pillow and let the RAINBOW catch my TEARS for me!!!
4. TAKE 5 deep breathes SLOWLY.
5. DRAW or WRITE my SAD feelings in my JOURNAL.
6. ASK my parent for a HUG!!!
7. GO to MY mirror and make a funny face REALLY BIG!!!
8. GO get my BUBBLES and BLOW 3 wishes into the air!!!

At the end-all of the items are placed back in the bag and the child or parent/therapist/social worker writes on the outside of the bag

“Things to do when I feel sad to make my broken heart feel glad!” The child keeps the bag within reach hanging on a doorknob or hooks in his/her room.

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