Talking Death and Dying with Children – Part 2

In Part 1, I opened the doors to talking with young children about death and dying. Finding a dead bunny on the playground was the opportunity I needed.  Children are often angry when a pet or loved one dies.  I shared an excellent book that can help children, The Rough Patch, by Brian Lies.  It is beautifully illustrated and just won a Caldecott award.  Highly recommended.

Part 2
Death and dying – the dreaded “D” words.  Teachers are uncomfortable talking about it. Parents are afraid to talk about it.  Often the subject is swept under the rug or avoided altogether.  Sometimes well-meaning answers such as, “She is on a cloud in the sky,” can be confusing for children.

Here’s the thing: Children feel.  Children know.  But children don’t have the words to tell you.  They have a hundred thoughts and images running through their brain, and their heart is spilling over.  They simply cannot express themselves.

And if nothing is said to the child, fear and guilt are the evil enemies that typically creep in, slowly building like parasites over time.  Adults who are afraid of death often tell stories of seeing their parents and family members ‘fall apart’, and a confusing blur of events- over which they had no control.

Crying and becoming upset is not the problem; that’s a natural reaction to death.  It means one has a heart.  Not talking about death with a child is the real problem.

What to do?  If you assume you know how the child feels, that can be a big mistake.  While you might feel sad, the child might feel scared or angry.  An open dialogue where a child can ask questions is the best place to start.

 Ask.  Listen.  Answer.  Talk.

A good book can help open the way for a child to ask those important questions.  It just might be the best beginning.  One excellent book is City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems.

The storyline is gentle and friendly.  It’s predictable with changing seasons and repeated text.  A dog moves to the country and finds a best friend – a frog.  As the seasons change, the frog becomes less lively, and one winter day the dog goes to find his friend.

City Dog looked for Country Frog.

Country Frog was not there.

No words are needed in this illustration.
A picture is worth a thousand words.

The beautiful and powerful illustrations by Jon Muth speak volumes.  When I read City Dog, Country Frog aloud to children and get to this wordless page, I just say, “Oh, my.”  Then I pause and wait for the children to say something.

“Where is the frog?”
“Is he coming back?”
“Is he dead?”

Their words and questions, whatever they may be, will help me to take their hearts and minds where they need to go.

 Ask.  Listen.  Answer.  Talk.

After winter comes spring.  The ending of the book has a twist, and it subtly leaves the message that time moves on, and time heals all wounds.

The book is excellent.  Go and grab it.  It’s a warm ray of sunshine.

Stay tuned for Part 3, and a book that stands-up to the test of time on death and dying.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Book Review, books, children's books, Death and dying, Dogs, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, picture books, preschool, reading aloud, Teaching young children, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

55 Responses to Talking Death and Dying with Children – Part 2

  1. Annika Perry says:

    Jennie, this looks like a gem of a book and how true that sometimes words are not needed! His expression says it all! I’m in the process of ordering some books from the library and requesting City Dog. Country Frog. Many thanks for sharing. x

  2. Opher says:

    A great thing to do Jennie. The book sounds perfect.

  3. beetleypete says:

    This is a lovely, touching series, and it looks like a wonderful book too. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. I don’t suppose the average parent (and most of us were probably below average) thinks about this until it happens. Then you just deal with it as best you can – as our parents did. Getting ahead of the game has to be good!

  5. Dan Antion says:

    You are right about the need to ask, listen, answer and talk. This looks like a very good book. Thanks for telling us about it.

  6. I’m going to get this book! I’m sure it will help our little ones when losing pets, and unfortunately people we love.

  7. Wonderful book choice and suggestions of how to use with kids!

  8. Ritu says:

    Another lot of wonderful advice 😘

  9. Darlene says:

    Using a book to help explain death is an excellent idea. City Dog, Country Frog is a good one.

  10. Another wonderful book to help children. I often think we don’t give them enough credit for understanding larger concepts.

  11. srbottch says:

    Very nice, Jennie. You handle this so well.

  12. An excellent article, Jennie.

  13. frenchc1955 says:

    Thank you for another excellent post, Jennie.

  14. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is part 2 in Jennie’s excellent series.

  15. Grief is the footprint where love has walked…. Since we prepare for births, why not our deaths?

    It struck me as particularly tragic when my terminally ill mother felt abandoned by everyone because it was so clear they were afraid to face her death as a witness, when SHE had to face it full on. We need to embrace such passings: they are lessons in how to be human. Always be willing to sit bedside to the terminal among us — whether it is your pet or a parent. While it may be the single hardest thing you do, it is also the greatest gift we can give one another…it is part of the compact we make as life companions. And changing our attitudes starts with helping our children deal with their grief…aren’t we all still children ourselves, anyway — way deep down?

    • Jennie says:

      Beautifully said! Your eloquent words speak of the circle of life. Death is but a part. Your mother’s story is indeed tragic. Yes, embrace passings, and change our attitudes. We are all children deep down inside. ❤️ Thank you, KC.

  16. Kim Willuams says:

    Thank you for dealing with such a tough topic. I’ve faced this situation many times during my years in children’s ministry.

  17. I am a mother to a child who has lost two brothers as well as a Registered Nurse. Your writing is sound and pictures do help, indeed. There are times when a special child needs to be able to cope and I don’t know if that is included in your book. Drop a email on my blog if you wish to discuss this further.

  18. You truly can do on your own with help from some of us in the indie world.

  19. Sarah says:

    I really like that you recommend books to help parents and other teachers to approach this difficult subject, Jennie. This one, as well as the other from part 1, will go you TBR list. 😊

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s