Parents work hard to keep their children safe and to shelter them from anything scary or sad. But sometimes in life, the sad and scary find us anyway. We can't keep death from our children, whether it happens to a pet or a person they love. Knowing what to say (or sometimes what not to say), is only half of a parent's job. Fortunately, there are many resources available to assist parents in explaining tough topics such as grief and death to their children. In honor of National Children's Grief Awareness Day, I'll share some that I have personally used and can recommend.
*Books (best for ages 4-12):
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia. This book was recommended to Hubby by a therapist who specializes in grief. The story is about a leaf who learns about the changing of the seasons in relation to his life cycle, and that death is a natural part of life. Hubby read it to our boys every night near the end of Joey's life, and I think they came to understand what was happening.
When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Dino Life Guides for Families) by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown, creators of the famed Arthur series of books. I wish I would have known about this book when Joey was sick. Rather than a story, the book answers questions that children might have such as: What does dead mean? and What comes after death? It also covers feelings that kids might have and customs and traditions for remembering loved ones. I like that it touches upon many different cultures' ways of handling death and what comes after. I highly recommend this book.
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day). This is a sweet little story about a boy whose beloved cat dies. His family plans a funeral, and the boy is tasked with finding 10 things he loved about his pet. He thinks of nine, but can't find a tenth. After doing some gardening with his father and talking about the cycle of life, he comes up with a beautiful tenth reason why he loved Barney. My ten year old - who, admittedly, is very sensitive - cried when I read this book. I took that as the message getting through loud and clear.
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie. "There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive. In between is living." The author talks about how plants, animals, and even people all have a beginning and an ending and how each creature's life in between is different. A life can be longer or shorter, it can end naturally or due to an accident or illness. The common tie that binds every living thing is that it has a beginning and an end and a life in between. The repetition and easy flow of this book makes it a solid read. My boys really understood the concept of this book.
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen In this book, Grandy has just suffered a big loss in her life (the book doesn't say what it is), so she begins making a big batch of 'tear soup.' There are many things that go into tear soup, and everyone's is different; but ultimately tear soup helps you heal. This concept may be above some younger children's heads, but the book does a good job of explaining it in the end. The back also contains "cooking tips" (advice about grief) and numerous grief resources (some of which you can see below).
Another book that came highly recommended, but that my local library did not have is:
When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers fame) How could anything the beloved Mr. Rogers wrote be wrong? I see this book on several lists of the best books to explain grief to children. The book "helps children share their feelings about losing a pet, while offering them reassurance that grieving is a natural, healing thing to do." I really want to check this one out.
Other titles that came up in my Amazon search that looked good and helpful and are on my short list to find are:
I'll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm (pet death)
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst (the ties that bind us)
I Miss You: A First Look at Death (First Look at Books) by Pat Thomas and Leslie Harker (expressing feelings about the loss of a family member or friend)
The important thing to remember about books is to read them yourself first and make sure they are appropriate for your situation and child. *Please note, all of the above are affiliate links, and I will make a little money if you buy one of them after clicking on the title or picture.
Also, see information here about a sweet little book on grief written by Stephanie Giese of Binkies and Briefcases.
My local library had what they called "Grief Kits" - one for young children and one for teens and tweens. They were put together by our local Ted E. Bear Hollow (see below) and contain grief-related books and DVDs for children and their caregivers. Check to see if your local library or Children's Hospital has something similar.
|It's a bag that you can take with you. |
It even contains a stuffed friend.
There are a number of websites that offer tips, advice, and additional resources on talking about grief of all kinds.
The Fred Rogers Company: Under Parent Resources and Challenges, there is a section about "dealing with death." Topics covered are children's curiosity about death, how to talk about death and express feelings, responding to a child's needs and feelings, and taking care of your own feelings. Very sweetly done, in classic Mr. Rogers fashion.
The Compassionate Friends: Provides support for parents and siblings after a child dies. There are over 600 chapters located in all 50 states; but if none is convenient for you, they also provide on-line support.
Centering Corporation: Looking for a resource on any and all types of grief and loss? You can probably find it here. Their mission is simply to provide the best grief literature possible on everything from pet loss to pregnancy and infant loss to adult grief.
The Dougy Center: The National Center for Grieving Children and Families. This website provides wonderful resources and activities for grieving children and teens. One activity I have used with my kids is their "Finish the sentence" activity. It really got us talking about things that needed to be said. I like that this site has help for teens and young adults, a Spanish support group, and advice on getting through the holidays.
Kids Said: The daughter site of GriefNet.org, this is a place for kids by kids. Kids can join an online support group, share artwork and stories, ask questions and support one another. It is a safe place monitored by a clinically trained grief counselor and psychologist.
Ted E. Bear Hollow: I love these helpful hints for adults supporting grieving children.
National Alliance for Grieving Children: I really feel like this website has it all: Support for grieving children and teens, activities and advice for talking about grief, and crisis resources. It even has information on local and national groups and camps for grieving children.
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It really sucks that death is a natural part of life simply because it hurts our hearts so much. I hope I have given you some resources to make the grief process easier and to support your child's grief awareness journey. Click here for helpful hints on talking to your child about death.
*This post contains affiliate links.