Losing a family member, friend, or pet is distressing. When children encounter a loss, it’s often hard to make sense of where their loved one has gone after seeing them? Little ones don’t always have the understanding or experiences to recognize what loss means. For example, preschoolers tend to think the world revolves around them, so they may feel a misguided sense of blame. Having open chats like: “When people die, you won’t be able to see them. Their body stops working, and they can’t eat, walk, or play anymore.” Or touching on the cycle of life, such as–birth, living our lives, and eventually, passing away– helps open up the conversation for little ones.
Normalizing Hard Emotions
Sadness, confusion, anger, frustration, and emptiness are natural emotions experienced during a loss. Recognizing and validating the many feelings of grief helps normalize the range of emotions that come up when a loss occurs. Learning about death helps little feminists be empathetic humans to friends who have lost a loved one.
How Other Cultures Process Grief
We don’t always get to decide when big changes happen, but littles need to know that death is not something to be feared. Yes, a loss can be sad, but we can hold onto beautiful memories. In Latine cultures, families celebrate Dia de los Muertos on November 1-2 to honor loved ones with an altar filled with photos and treats. Whether death is honored as a celebration, remembrance, or life cycle, reassure your little one that happy times follow.
How to Talk About Death and Loss
The topic of loss can raise many unanswerable questions for grown-ups. Kids need gentle support to take it all in. Even if children haven’t encountered the death of a loved one, they might have seen or heard about death from the media. Books make the best resources for talking about challenging situations. While grief and loss are not the happiest subjects, picture books offer a way to discuss loss and grief in an age-friendly way.
OUR TOP BOOK PICKS ON DEATH AND GRIEF
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead Children’s Finger Puppet Board Book
- Best for ages 0-2
What we love: The story celebrates the reunion of the living and the dead with number learning.
Things to know: As a board book, the story doesn’t go into detail about the Day of the Dead celebration. To learn more, check out Our Day of the Dead Celebration by Ana Aranda
An Ordinary Day
- Best for ages 2-4
What we love: The story shows the circle of life on an ordinary day in the neighborhood.
Things to know: The story touches on the loss of a pet in one household and the birth of a new baby in another household.
Many Shapes of Clay: A Story of Healing
- Best for ages 4-7
What we love: The story touches on how to make something beautiful out of loss told from the eyes of a Black family.
Things to know: The story focuses on the loss of a father and the healing process.
- Best for ages 4-7
What we love: The story focuses on a child helping an adult heal through a loss. It’s also an LGBTQIA+ positive story.
Things to know: The story touches on the loss of a spouse- grandpa with gramps- with a focus on celebrating loved ones through adventures.
If You Miss Me
- Best for ages 7-9
What we love: The book is a wonderful reminder that the people who mean the most will always be with us.
Things to know: The book explicitly mentions the grandma passing away and the hard feelings right after. The book does remind readers loved ones are always near and dear.