Hearing your toddler crying, "I don't want to die!" is incredibly painful and can make your parenting instincts freeze up in fear. Which was my initial reaction the first time my daughter lay in bed wailing.
I knew the death discussions would arrive on our doorstep sooner rather than later and we've seen inklings of interest before. "Grandpa Rich is dead," she has said repeatedly with more awe than fear. But my 4-year-old seems to have reached a new level of understanding, and therefore complete terror, when it comes to death and dying.
We're a mixed religion family, so it's a bit tricky. But even if we were hard-core after-lifers, 4 is too young to really grasp the abstract concept of heaven.
So we turned to a few children's books to help ease her fear, and explain death and connection in a gentle way. So far, these books have calmed down our anxious child.
I wasn't sure what, exactly, I was searching for when I looked for books to introduce and explain the concept of death and grieving to my little girl. Always and Forever doesn't sugar coat the issue. Fox gets sick, and Fox dies. Fox's friends who are left behind don't take it well, either. They stay locked up in their tree house for the better part of a year, depressed and unable to move on.
While this seems incredibly depressing, it's also somehow comforting to show the grieving process, rather than acting like no one is hurting. Let's face it, death is the worst and putting a positive spin is kind of BS. What does make Always and Forever kid-friendly is the focus on living life by celebrating your loved one that has gone before. That, and having animals act out this tragedy, rather than human characters. Which would be too close to home for comfort.
The Invisible String has also been useful for us since we've moved and left friends behind. This beautiful story resonated with our daughter immediately, as they describe a string that connects your heart to everyone else's that you love. When someone else tugs on that string, you can feel it as you miss that person. But missing a person means that person is thinking about you. And when you think about them, they can feel their string being tugged as well. Yes, even Uncle Brian in heaven.
Our girl immediately started naming everyone her string reached out to that was living far away and told us how she felt us tugging on her string when we were away from her last weekend. I truly believe we just created an embodiment of connection she can reference for her entire young life.
Always and Forever ($10.88) -- Amazon
The Invisible String ($11.53) -- Amazon
What books or tools would you recommend to help teach your children about death?