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.
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.