My grandmother's death was the first experience my kids had with death. From explaining what dying was to preparing them for what they would experience at her funeral, I was completely inexperienced and unready. So, I went to the library and looked through the shelves for kids' books that would explain what I couldn't. Unfortunately, always timely, here are some books you may find helpful when met with having to discuss death with your kids:
When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death, by Laurie Krasny Brown
It has very friendly illustrations, the writing is very approachable and respectful, it covers many different traditions of funerals (religious and non-religious), and it addresses feelings and fears.
The only note I would make is that it opens death a bit wider than I was looking for (accidental death, child death, suicide). Surprisingly, though, my kids connected with some of it—I had a fetal demise a few years ago, and upon reading the page on when youngsters die, my youngest connected that picture to “our baby.”
The part on suicide is simply a picture of pills with a short sentence—you could easily skip that illustration box.
Wishes for One More Day, by Melanie Joy Pastor
Though it didn’t connect with our religious tradition, the positive approach was good. It focused on good memories and putting those memories to paper as a keepsake—creating living memories for your family.
The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, by Judith Viorst
Though the description tells of a boy whose pet has died, it seems to follow the unsure times and positive memories surrounding a loss.
What's Heaven?, By Maria Shriver
What's Heaven? follows the story of Kate, whose great-grandma has just died.
Death is a difficult topic whether you are a grown up or a child. I found that instead of starting the conversation with information, I asked my children, "Do you have any questions?" It seemed to help with a starting point in the conversation.
I found, when discussing death with my kids, that letting them lead the discussion empowered them without scaring them with too much information.
For more info on how to help your kids deal with traumatic events, click here.