Many children lose someone that they love early in their lives. It is hard to watch a child in pain, and even more difficult to help heal the heart of someone you love while you, yourself, are hurting. Whether the loss is of a parent, grandparent, friend, or beloved pet, understanding death, its permanency, and all of the ways that it touches our lives is a complicated matter. Whether we’re ready or not, grief and loss are a part of everyday life – and we can’t always shelter our students from them, or the pain that they bring. Sometimes, we have to deal with the subject head on, and try to be a resource to help children understand and deal with the tragedy around them.
Death is a difficult topic that can be very hard to explain, and even more difficult for little ones to understand. No adult knows how to answer questions like, “But where did they go? When will they be back?” Children are curious, and expressing feelings can be tough – everyone handles grief and loss differently. It’s hard to know if your child understands the gravity of the situation, or if the way they’re reacting is “normal”. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that when it comes to learning about loss and pain, there’s no such thing as “normal”. But if you feel like your child, or you, needs assistance to get through a difficult situation, please contact a professional for help.
Sometimes the easiest way to talk about the loss of a loved one is through a story that approaches death or loss in a sensitive, gentle way. Whether speaking directly about the loss of a special person, answering logical questions about what death means and what comes next, or watching characters mourn a loss of their own, seeing grief and loss reflected in literature can help children to understand and recognize their own feelings. Here are a few resources that have helped me when working with little ones that have experienced a loss.
- Book store Barnes and Noble provides a list of 7 Books to Help Children Cope with the Loss of a Parent
- This helpful list from the New York Public Library, called Childrens Books about Death, Loss, and Grieving, breaks the subject down into smaller categories like Serious and Meaningful, Lighthearted and Whimsical, or Illness or Death of a Grandparent.
- Little Parachutes, a wonderful website that curates lists of books to help children with health issues, worries, and new experiences, provides a list of Picture Books about Death and Bereavement. My favorites on this list take a straightforward approach to answering children’s’ questions (Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute?, What Happened to Daddy’s Body?) providing logical, simple answers so that adults don’t have to.
- Tablet magazine has a list of The Best New Kids Books – About Death, because great new picture books are coming out all the time. Ida, Always, with its lovable polar bears and gentle message, is a favorite in our library. (Note: While this list is not religious, Tablet magazine has religious affiliations.)
- A great list complete with summaries and suggestions of how to use the books with your child comes from the National Association of School Psychologists. Recommended Books for Children Coping with Loss or Trauma can be downloaded as a PDF here.
Other great resources on talking to your family about death, loss, and tragedy:
- For older readers that might need something more substantial than a picture book, The Guardian provides Top 10 Childrens Books on Death and Bereavement.
- From the lovable and wise legacy of Mr. Rogers, fredrogers.org’s Dealing with Death
- The Dougy Center’s suggestions for schools impacted by tragedy, When Death Impacts your School
- For teachers or loving adults not in parenting roles that are still looking to be a part of the healing process, Scholastic offers Death and Loss: Helping Children Manage their Grief
- If you’re interested in resources especially geared toward students with special needs, the Autism Speaks organization offers a list of Bereavement and Grief Resources that may be helpful
Many of these books are available to be checked out from the Jefferson Madison Regional Library, or you may choose to purchase a copy and keep it in your home for future conversations. No matter the route that you choose, your child is sure to have questions, worries, and fears; I hope that some of these resources help.