Book review: When Children Grieve

0615enewswhenchildrengrieveBy Susan Crawford, M.Sc.

To watch a child grieve and not know what to do is one of the most challenging things for parents, but in their book, When Children Grieve, John W. James and Russell Friedman show parents how to help free children from the false idea that they should not “feel bad”, and to empower children with effective methods to deal with loss.

The key points for parents are to listen with your heart and allow children to express all their emotions without judging, criticizing or analyzing. Parents are cautioned against telling their child not to feel scared or sad, and are cautioned against telling the child to be strong, grieve alone, and time heals all wounds.

In their chapters on pet loss, James and Friedman help parents review the relationship the child had with the pet, and go on to show parents how to talk about their own feelings about losing the pet, and if applicable about losing a pet when they were children. Parents go first and are encouraged to say how sad they are and how much they miss the pet, so that children realize it is safe to admit those feelings themselves.

For many children, the pet was a trusted confidant, and the child tells the pet all of their thoughts and feelings, and is loved unconditionally for it. Parents are shown how to go through a checklist with their child, as a reminder of events all the way from getting permission to have the pet, to ones like the pet getting sick and the decision to put the pet to sleep. 

By doing so, parents can help their child discover things they wish they had said or done and things they wish they had not said or done. After uncovering those areas that are emotionally incomplete, the authors suggest that each can be categorized as apologies, forgiveness, significant emotional statements and fond memories.

For example, the young child may apologize to the dog for forgetting to walk him after supper one time when the dog ended up having an accident in the house. Parents are then given examples of letters to pets that children have written, where they go through apologies, forgiveness, significant emotional statements, and all the fond memories. The authors recommend that the letters finish with telling the pet that they are loved, missed, will never be forgotten, and then the child says goodbye to the pet at the end of the letter. Reading the letter to the parent is a key point to help give the child closure.

No matter what the grief is for, seeing your child become hopeful again is the greatest gift you can give to a child you love. Highly recommended!

Top pet loss books for children:

  • I’ll Always Love You, by Hans Wilhelm (Ages 2-6)
  • The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, by Judith Viorst (ages 4-9)
  • Dog Heaven, by Cynthia Rylant (ages 4-11)
  • The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye, by Jane Yolen (ages 6-9)
  • Jasper’s Day, by Marjorie Blain Parker (ages 6-10)
  • Saying Goodbye to Lulu, by Corinne Demas (all ages)
  • The Legend of Rainbow Bridge, by William N. Britton (all ages)
  • For Every Dog An Angel, by Christine Davis (all ages)