Books for Helping Children Deal with Death

From infancy to the “terrible two’s”, through grade school and adolescent angst, journeying beyond adulthood by crossing over the hill to reach those precious “golden years”, we continually unearth the vibrant spectrum of human emotions.

Channeling emotion in a positive direction is a challenging task in itself but multiplies tremendously when attempting to teach children to deal with their own feelings. In the face of this daunting task, we occasionally brush our child’s emotions under the rug and turn toward others for help.

The good news is there are several books waiting under bed pillows and toy chests for your voice to give life to powerful words about anger, fear, happiness, sadness, death and self-esteem. They not only provide an entertaining realm for an abundance of feelings but also reinforce a child’s need to understand the essence of these potent emotions.

One series of prominent note, A Language of ParentingâÂ?¢ Guide, combines the clinical experience of psychologist, Dr. Barbara Gardiner, with the creativity of best selling animator/illustrator, Jane Aaron. Dr. Gardiner provides a practical, instructive discourse for parents that breaks down barriers before reading and sharing time with their child. Both Golden Books from the series, When I’m Afraid and When I’m Angry ($15.00 each) include a handy parents guide and short story with realistic examples your child can identify with. The focus of each book is to emphasize all feelings are valid and a natural part of growth. Not stopping there, they go on to stimulate a child’s willingness to approach his/her parents.

With a slightly different approach, Judy Spain Barton’s book, Little Feelings (Promethus Books, $9.95), poses the question, “Does anyone out there really know how I feel?” Through lyrical prose and witty, heart-felt dialogue, the book assists a child in realizing these complex feelings he/she goes through are commonplace in everyday life. Either frustrated or energetic, independent or afraid, curious and daring, or shy and alone, this book conveys the gamut of feelings can be dealt with in an appropriate manner and aimed toward constructive means once the feelings are identified and brought to the surface.

Of all emotions, death is the most difficult for parents to explain and help children understand, let alone for the child to express. Many children experience a death of a grandparent early in life. They may ask to speak with them or visit their house because they do not understand the everlasting effects of death.

Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs (G.P. Putnam’s & Sons, $15.99) by Tomie dePaola relays the true story of the author and his grandmothers when he was four years old. As his great-grandmother dies, Tommy is left alone in her bedroom and feels gloomy when a meal is shared with an empty chair. He is saddened, but told that she is in his memory whenever he needs her. Tommy finds the nights restless and awakens frequently. One night, Tommy sees a shooting star that comforts him because it is seen as a sign from Nana Upstairs. Later, when it is Nana Downstairs’ turn to die, Tommy accepts death with a bit more ease and awaits the sign of another shooting star.

When Dinosaurs Die, A Guide to Understanding Death (Little, Brown and Company, $5.95) by Laurie Krasny Brown and Mark Brown utilizes children’s love fore dinosaurs to ease the sadness of death a little more so. Taking a strong and comforting approach to understanding death by incorporating definitions of “alive” and “dead” and a glossary explaining additional terms mentioned in the context of the book, it gives families room to discuss a child’s thoughts on the issue. It also touches on feelings when friends say good-bye, what happens after death, and how to remember loved ones.

Death is a complicated obstacle in the circle of life and always a sad experience. With tools such as Mr. DePaola’s and the Brown’s books to help, we can prepare a child for the inevitable consequences death brings. Every day introduces a new emotion for everyone. Spending time with your child reading books on emotions can reassure loved ones while helping ourselves roll vigorously with the good and the bad.

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