Grieving with children

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Last week a tragedy happened in a town near us when two young boys were killed in a hit-and-run. One mother whose daughter knew the boys contacted me asking if I knew of any resources to help them, and as we’ve also had a family bereavement this week, I thought a post about things which might help could be helpful to others.

People usually contact me asking for a book, so here are my recommendations:

Books and videos:

I co-authored the Held in Hope series of books aimed at Christian children aged 3–6, exploring experiences of sickness and death, drawing on what the Bible says about them. We tried to ensure the books answered the questions young children have. You can purchase the books or watch online films of each book. There are two versions of each book, one that reads straight through and the one where it pauses occasionally to ask some questions and help children process. The questions will be helpful if like many parents, you struggle to know how to begin a conversation about sickness and death with their child. Having a conversation with a child is doubly hard for those who might be grieving themselves. 

The two books I’d recommend for grieving families are:

Jesus Still Loves Joe – a book about a child whose sister has died, which explores grief and how we are always loved by God no matter how we feel.

The free online film is here.

Sam’s Special Book – a book aimed at Christian children aged 3-6 years exploring grief and how we are always loved by God no matter how we feel.

The free online film is here.

When wrote these books, I recommended people read them with their children before they had a need to chat about death, and so when my girls were 2 and 3 I decided I should take my own advice! At first, I thought they didn’t really get them, as they seemed to take them in just like The Gruffalo or The Highway Rat. However, a few months later we had a surprising conversation:

3yo: Mummy, there’s no pain in heaven, is there?

Me: No. [surprised and delighted that one of the things in the Jesus Still Loves Joe book has obviously been heard!)]

2yo: Yeah, Jesus, he wipes all the pain away like wiping up milk.

Me: [stunned pause] Yes, yes! Just like wiping up milk [makes mental note of deep theological response!]

Three years later, having experienced the first death of someone they knew, my now 6yo told me today that it’s harder when someone you know dies, as you have memories, good ones, bad ones and middley ones.

We’ve had some very deep conversations about death, heaven and hell, burial and cremation, funerals and what people wear. In the middle of these conversations, my 6yo told me:

“You know Mummy, just before Great Grandad died, I think Jesus came into his room and took away all his pain, anxiety and weakness and made him just like us. Then He made a shaft of light so that he could see all the pictures of his family on the wall.” What a beautiful picture, and how amazing to be comforted in my time of sadness by my daughter. It’s been so hard but so good to be able to continue our chats about death and grief, and so meet God in the middle of them. I hope these resources help you to do the same.


Things we’ve done are:

  • making space in our schedule for downtime, which allows time for conversations, crying and feeling sad
  • watching Inside Out, a movie in which we discover that sadness is an important part of life (and there’s that really sad bit where BingBong dies which gave us an excellent chance to sob!)
  • read The Paper Dolls, chosen by my 5yo, which is a secular book written by Julia Donaldson that really expresses the sadness of loss and the precious-ness of memories in a beautiful way. I’ve used this to explore grief in workshops, and this week when my daughter chose to read it, she found the wondering questions I’d written in the back, such as I wonder which part of the story you like best. I wonder which part of this story could be about someone you love dying. I wonder what part of this story is a bit like Jesus. She found these surprisingly easy to answer and gave her an opportunity to talk about death and loss, Jesus and heaven in a profound but very childlike and appropriate way.

One of the things we intentionally put into the Held in Hope books are good practise for grieving, including the following:

  • a memory box – a small cardboard box with items which remind you of the person
  • a candle – to light and remember them
  • a tree to plant to remember them (this could also be any perennial plant)
  • spending time being sad and comforting each other

Here’s an activity I’ve done a few times at workshops and am doing at a family funeral for my children to explore Jesus’ words ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms”.

More resources

Here’s a link to some articles from Parenting for Faith about bereavement and grief including one called: What do you do when you and your toddler come upon a funeral procession?

You can get more information about the resources and services Care for the Family provide for bereaved parents and children here.