Talking about death is never easy. This is especially true when having to explain the loss of loved one to a child who may not even understand what death means.
The best thing we can do is tell them the truth as soon as possible. Being honest with children about the situation helps them to understand why other family members are upset.
While information should be delivered at a level appropriate for the child’s age range, it is helpful to use the words dead or died. Even though it may be hard to say them, it is better in the long run as descriptions like “went to sleep” or “passed away” may create confusion about the permanency of the situation. For example, if a child is told a pet has been “put to sleep,” they may expect them to wake up or may fear that they themselves might die when they go to sleep at night.
One way to help explain the concept of death is to incorporate books for a grieving child into your time together. Here are three books that can help answer a grieving child’s questions and ease their pain.
Three Books for a Grieving Child
The children’s book When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown explains death and coping with the loss of a loved one in simple, straightforward terms.
This incredibly thorough book doesn’t just cover the idea of death. It discusses the different ways people can die and explores the feelings a child may experience after the death of a loved one. It also shares ideas for how to say goodbye to a loved one who has died including some common customs and ways to keep their loved one’s memory alive.
When Dinosaurs Die also includes a glossary of terms that can help take your discuss with the child further.
Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert is aimed at a young audience, but it can be just as comforting for adult readers. Written as a modern-day fable, it shares the story of Grandy, an older woman who has suffered the loss of a loved one. The story never addresses the specifics of who died and doesn’t speak much about death itself, but rather it focuses on the process of grief through the metaphor of making soup.
Grandy recognizes that her tear soup cannot be rushed, and it will often be a solitary pursuit. She explains that everyone must grieve in their own way. There is no right or wrong way to make tear soup.
The back of the book includes “Grandy’s Cooking Tips” which is an essential read on its own, offering education about how mourners may be feeling, ways to process grief, and resources for support.
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia covers the entire circle of life from the perspective of Freddie who experiences the seasons from his place on the branch. Confused by the changes, his wise friend Daniel talks him through each one. Daniel also speaks about his purpose and helping others in the community.
As the days grow shorter, the changes become more dramatic. The leaves on the tree change colors and eventually fall. The story is warmly told and comforting, addressing our unique experiences, finding our purpose, and gently explains that all lives one day end.
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides grief support in all the communities we serve. To learn more about how we support children who have suffered a loss, please call 1-888-564-3405. To request a free copy of our Journey After booklet on bereavement, please visit our website.
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