Tough Conversations: Books That Help Explain Illness and Death

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There are topics that no parent ever wants to have to address with their little one — conversations about hard to explain topics like illness and death. Whether it's the loss of a grandparent, an ill parent or sibling, or the passing of a classmate, there are resources to help moms and dads guide those discussion in an age-appropriate way. Here, some of our recommended books dealing with illness, death, and separation. They deserve to know . . . it will get better!

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Always by My Side

Always by My Side

We were touched by the premise of Susan Kerner's Always by My Side. After losing her husband just 10 months into their marriage, and two months into her pregnancy, Kerner came up with the idea of a book for kids who have experienced loss or separation. It's appropriate for children who are coping with more than just death, and it is applicable to divorce, deployment, or any other challenging circumstances as well.

Mama's Right Here

Mama's Right Here

The companion book to Always By My Side, Susan Kerner's new book Mama's Right Here, helps children to cope with the loss or absence of their mother. The gentle illustrations and rhyming words aim to comfort and support children in a meaningful and lasting way, and to remind them that a mother's love is ever-present.

When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death ($7) answers basic questions about death — "What does dead mean?" "What comes after death?" — in a straightforward way. Appropriate for children 5 and up.

Written by psychotherapist and counselor Pat Thomas, I Miss You: A First Look at Death ($11) teaches tots that death is the natural complement to life, and that it's normal to feel sad and confused. Written from a secular perspective, this book addresses the afterlife in very general terms, explaining that we don't really know what happens when someone dies, but that most cultures have some belief about the concept of a soul — a concept that can be very comforting to kids.

Where Are You? A Child's Book About Loss ($13) is the poignant story of a young boy who loses his father. With simple words and illustrations, this book is appropriate for very young kids and concludes with the reassurance that loved ones will always be in our hearts and memories, even if we can't see them anymore.

Let My Colors Out deals with an issue that affects a lot of kids: a parent diagnosed with cancer. Emotions are represented by colors, scared (purple), sad and alone (blue), jealous of kids who aren't dealing with cancer in the family (green), pretending everything is OK and normal again (orange), angry (red), and happy despite all that is going on (yellow). The key message is that it's OK to feel whatever you're feeling, and the importance of letting those "colors" out.

Little Tree: A Story For Children With Serious Medical Problems ($10) tackles parents' greatest fear — their child being diagnosed with a serious illness or suffering a life-altering injury — with a tender story about a little tree weathering a fierce storm. The book also includes practical advice for parents about different coping methods — like relaxation techniques and visualization exercises — that they can teach their children.