Playing through Grief: Helping Children Heal

By Elizabeth Davis  |  Photos courtesy of Beverly Sargent | Cover photo by Lee Haywood/Flickr Creative Commons

When Beverly Sargent’s best friend died from breast cancer in 2005, she wanted to help her friend’s children through the grieving process.

A doctoral candidate in Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care, Sargent searched for books, but she found that all of them were meant for an adult to read to the child.

As a pastoral counselor specializing in child-centered play therapy, she knew the importance of empowering the child to work through the grief and healing process. To guide grieving children through the emotions of loss, she created When My Mommy Died and When My Daddy Died.

“I saw a need,” she said. “Children grieve differently. They play through their emotions. I created a tool to help them process the grief and heal.”

One of her passions is child-centered play therapy, and Sargent’s training and expertise allow her to view a child’s play through a therapist’s lens.

“It was a natural progression to merge play therapy with a tool to help children grieve,” she said. “Adults may think a grieving child is fine because they are playing when, in fact, children play through all emotions. It is important to look at how they are playing. Are, for instance, the dinosaurs they are holding eating each other? Is a doll crying? How is the child expressing his or her emotions through play?”

Sargent’s unconventional children’s books encourage the children to color and write in the books. Through her books, Sargent guides the children through various activities such as drawing a picture of their parent with God or writing their parent a letter. The reader actively works and plays through the healing process.

“Grief is one emotion that everyone has to deal with but no one wants to discuss,” said Sargent, who wrote the books for children younger than 12. She has, however, spoken to adults who lost parents as children and they were touched by the books because they carried unresolved grief.

Although Sargent created When My Mommy Died and When My Daddy Died to help her friend’s children, the books have helped many children.

She is currently completing her dissertation in the Pastoral Counseling department and works at the Loyola Clinical Centers as a clinical supervisor for her graduate assisantship.

A licensed professional counselor and pastoral therapist, Sargent is an ordained clergy and founder and CEO of A Servant’s Heart Youth  Ministries Inc., and Ashes Rising Counseling Services, LLC. Her passion is working with children integrating spirituality into creative therapies such as play, sand, and art. The proceeds from the books will help build her dream to build and operate the KidsKampus, a residential treatment facility and retreat center for children.

Sargent retired from the U.S. Air Force in 2003. She and her husband have been married almost 30 years and have one son who is a sophomore at Valdosta State University.

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  • Posted by Maxine L Ball | December 14, 2012

    Thank you for these timely insights. In light of the Connecticut shooting (18 children dead and 8 adults), I was searching for what do you say to a six year old who may not know or understand what happened today. How do you even handle informing a child of the horror of today? I would not want her to find out through adults talking or hearing her playmates talk about it and she not be prepared to handle what she’s hearing.
    Thank you. You are doing a very important work for our children of today who will become adults of the future.

  • Posted by Glenda Dickonson | December 14, 2012

    Thank you Bev. God is doing a mighty work through you. I am very proud of all that you’ve done, and grateful for this timely therapeutic tool. Continue on with your good work.

  • Posted by Beverly R. Sargent | December 18, 2012

    Talking to a child about such tragedy as the shootings in Connecticut can be difficult. I certainly understand your desire to be the first to talk to her. Several days have passed since and by now teachers and/or school counselors may have talked to your six-year-old. I offer making space for her to draw, write or color. Let her know that she can talk to you and she can draw anything she wants. In fact, why not you begin the drawing and invite her to add to it. This meaningful activity may give you a window into her world. Children in this age group will often draw or play out their feelings. If you notice that she cuddles her dolls more than usual, she may desire a need for reassurance that all is well. She may also act out her fears or sadness in role plays with toys. Reminding her that she is surrounded by family and friends who love her will help her feel safe and secure.

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