Death and Dying Resources for Children and Parents

Currently, I am taking a summer course on death and dying to further expand my knowledge and skills in working with clients experiencing grief. This course has inspired me to write this blog in order to share some resources with you. Through reading my textbook, I became aware of how much I think about death and dying and how scared I was of death as a child. I remember being a freshman in high school having daily worries about my dad getting in an accident on the way to work in the morning or on the way to pick my brother and me up from school in the afternoon. I never told anyone about this fear and now that I think about it, growing up, we never really talked about death. I do not believe that it was taboo to talk about death in my family, it just never really “came up.”

Studies have shown that by age 5-6 years of age children understand that death is irreversible and by ages 7-10 years of age children conceptualize death as something that happens to everyone, including oneself. It is important to remember that each individual child varies in their rate of development. Family is extremely important when it comes to understanding death. Parents pass down beliefs and values about death to their children which ultimately influences the attitudes about death that that child carries with them into adulthood. Parents, it is okay to utilize “teachable moments” or unexpected opportunities for learning to teach your children about death and dying. If you are driving down the road and your child sees a dead animal, instead of reacting with disgust and telling them not to look at that, spend a few minutes talking about death. Creating an atmosphere of openness communicates that it is okay to talk and learn about death and the grief process. You can also intentionally create opportunities for learning about death. One way to teach children about the life cycle, including death, is by having pets. Typically pets lives are shorter than humans and this can provide an opportunity for children to explore the meaning of death and his or her feelings regarding the death of a loved one.

Here is a list of books about death and loss for children and teens:

Books for Younger Children

1.     Something Happened by Cathy Blanford (Ages 3-7)

-Discusses pregnancy loss and has information for grieving parents to help their children

2.     When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death by Marc Brown (Ages 3-8)

-Addresses fear about death and explains feelings people may have when a loved one dies and way of remembering a loved one who has died

3.     The Forever Dog by Bill Cochran (Ages 4-8)

-Addresses the unexpected death of a child’s dog best-friend

4.     A Dog Like Jack by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan (Ages 4-8)

-Loving and losing an aged pet with suggestions for parents about the loss of a pet

5.     The Moon Balloon: A Journey of Hope and Discovery for Children and Families by Joan Drescher (Ages 6-11)

-Illustrations of hot-air balloons containing feelings that a child might experience when coping with change. This book gives children an opportunity to draw or write about their feelings and offers helpful tips to adults.

6.     Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch (Ages 4 and up)

-A good tool used to demystify death and begin a discussion

7.     25 Things to Do When Grandpa Passes Away, Mom and Dad Get Divorced, or the Dog Dies by Laurie Kanyer (Ages 6-11)

8.     Since My Brother Died: Desde que Murio Mi Hermano by Marisol Munoz-Kiehne (Ages 5-12)

-A boy’s journey after the death of his brother told in English and Spanish with resources for parents

9.     What Does That Mean by Harold Ivan Smith and Joy Johnson (Ages 6-12)

-A dictionary of death, dying, and grief terms that children may hear and not understand

10.  I Miss You: A First Look at Death by Pat Thomas (Ages 4-8)

-Talks about how people die, funerals, a survivor’s feelings, and how people of different cultures engage in death rituals

Books for Older Children and Teens

1.     Playing Dad’s Song by Dina Friedman (Ages 9-12)

-Gus’s father died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. This book takes the reader through Gus’s journey of missing his father and feelings of isolation as well as coping skills that he uses.

2.     If Only by Carole Geitner (Ages12 and up)

-An 8th grader whose mother passed away from cancer gives voice to her experience of loss, grief, relationships with friends, and other teen concerns

3.     Bad Stuff in the News: A Guide to Handling the Headlines by Marc Gellman and Thomas Hartman (Ages 10-13)

-Helps children understand and cope with dangers in the world including terrorism, school shootings, natural and human caused disasters, abuse, dangerous sports, disease, and more

4.     Teen Grief Relief by Gloria Horsley and Heidi Horsley (Ages 12 and up)

-Information for teens and parents about ways that grieving teens can be helped

5.     Crossing 13: A memoir of a Father’s Suicide by Carrie Stark Hugus (Ages 12 and up)

-Normalizes the confusing and frightening grief response from the perspective of a teenage girl who discovers her father dead from suicide

6.     Side Effects by Amy Goldman Koss (Ages 9-12)

-A story of a teenager’s bout with cancer including coping mechanisms

7.     Hurricane: A Novel by Terry Trueman (Ages 9-12)

-A teen tells the story of surviving a disastrous hurricane and his life before and after

8.     Ask me…30 Things I Want You to Know: How to be a Friend to a Survivor of Suicide by Nan Zastrow (Ages 16 and up)

-Tips that help family and friends of survivors when they are at a loss as to how to help

9.     Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick (Ages 11-14)

-Written in the voice of an older sibling, the story touches on many aspects of living with life-threatening illness including the strain put on the entire family

10.  Why Did You Die: Activities to Help Children Cope with Grief and Loss by Erika Leeuwenburgh and Ellen Goldring (Ages 9 and up)

-Helpful activities for children who have experienced a death. Practical information for parents and other children to help a grieving child

If you or your child need help coping with the grieving process, Heights Family Counseling has counselors specializing in this area. You can book an appointment online at heightsfamilycounseling.com, call at 713-380-1151 or email me at rachelealy@heightsfamilycounseling.com

Written by: Rachel Ealy, M.Ed

Rachel is a counselor at Heights Family Counseling. She believes that counseling should be for everyone as everyone could use extra support, a place to define purpose and values, and tools to use to tackle life’s everyday problems, as well as someone to support your successes in life. Rachel specializes in working with children, adolescents, young adults, and couples. Learn more about Rachel's counseling approach by visiting https://heightsfamilycounseling.com/amy-rollo/

References: The Last Dance: Encountering Death and Dying by Lynne DeSpelder and Albert Strickland