Grief, Loss and Small Children (Part 3): Getting over loss and life changes

It’s easy to think that the feelings of grief and loss are only associated with major life events such as death. However, for small children, their circumstances can change very quickly, year upon year, as they themselves grow up and change or the world changes around them. It is unsurprising that childhood grief and feelings of loss can include such things such as parental separation, changes in schools or classes, moving house, even failing friendships.

Growth is always loss. Every time you’re gonna grow, you’re going to lose something – James Hillman, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy – And the World’s Getting Worse

Last year, as J started in a new school, he missed his old classmates dreadfully, especially his best friend. After three months in his new school, his best friend invited him to a party. J looked forward to going, but when he arrived there, he found that his best friend had changed so much that they were as good as strangers to each other. This realisation hurt J deeply.

How horrible it is that people have to grow up – and marry – and change! -L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

For months after that, he would often talk about his best friend and his old school, fervently wishing to be able to forget everything. I was constantly reminding him that those memories were precious, and that old friends often pop back into our lives in surprising ways.

Nothing is ever really lost to us, as long as we remember it – L.M.Montgomery, The Story Girl

One of the easiest ways to gently help children through these difficult times, is through books. As you can tell from the book quotes above (and in my previous post), authors can ease our troubles with a well-turned phrase, and sometimes, a good book can help illustrate those concepts that are difficult to explain.

Here are a few books that I highly recommend for those with children who are going through or preparing to go through a difficult time. (To find out more about each book and where to buy them, just click on the book covers.)

1.Wibbly Pig’s Silly Big Bear by Mick Inkpen

This is a very sweet story, which I feel focuses on love and friendship, and validates the feelings of sadness and loss that children have when someone they love has gone away.

In this book, Wibbly Pig is both frustrated and amused by the shortcomings of his Silly Big Bear, whilst at the same time being amazed by Silly Big Bear’s unique qualities. It is these many little quirks that make Silly Big Bear so beloved, that he is dearly missed when he is gone. I love the simple, uncluttered illustrations, as well as the gentle pacing of this story. A great one for the tiniest ones in the family.

2.Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies

In this lavishly and vibrantly illustrated book, a young boy, Syd, accompanies his Grandad on an epic adventure, to a beautiful island. When Grandad decides to stay on the island, Syd must journey home alone and it is not an easy trip.

I feel that this book very thoughtfully and carefully deals with the subject of the loss of a grandparent as well as the concept of heaven. The end of the book is particularly comforting, showing that no matter how far away a loved one may seem, they still remain close to us in our hearts and minds. The book does not at all mention death or dying, so it has a very subtle touch and is suitable for very sensitive young children.

3.The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

This book is particularly good for early readers and primary school aged kids and is about the transforming power of love, as well as the pain of growing up and change. The Velveteen Rabbit’s love and loyalty leads both to his separation from the person that he loves as well as the achievement of his life’s dream.

This is good book that perfectly captures the bittersweet feelings when reflecting upon a lost friendship, whilst illustrating how one must let go of the darlings of the past in order to step into an exciting new stage of life.

4.Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel is so scared of dying and is so cautious that he never leaves his tree – until one day, he has an accident that leads him to an amazing discovery!

This is a hilarious book with super-funny illustrations that encourages children to embrace the unknown and step out of their comfort zone in order to discover new and amazing things about themselves and the world around them.

A very good one for the anxious or nervous child who is fearful of change (or of starting a new phase in life).

5. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Here’s one for primary school-going kids or for confident readers! It is also a great book for reading aloud! This is one of the most lovely books about loyalty and friendship, and it deals very sensitively with loss, sadness and grief. The book also realistically touches on about how relationships change as people change and grow up. It’s hard not to feel moved when reading about the unlikely relationship between a pig and a spider.

The book also mentions some of the positive, active things that one can do in order to honour someone who has died, and I think it is a good starting point for opening up conversations with older children who are grieving.

If you have a good book you would like to share, or if you would like more book recommendations for other age groups, leave a comment below.


15 thoughts on “Grief, Loss and Small Children (Part 3): Getting over loss and life changes

  1. I like the perspective that you shared with regards to loss when a child grows and I agree with you. Simple things that we adults take for granted are precious for a kid. Thanks for sharing the list of books to read together when they are going through tough periods of growing up!

  2. Ah I feel like reading Charlotte’s Web all over again.. thanks for pointing out that with so many changes in childhood, a simple feeling of “sadness” may not be so simple after all and might actually be something stronger like grief.

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

  3. A family friend passed away recently and we took our 3 year old along to the funeral. It wasn’t easy to explain death to a young child, she was really affected and couldn’t understand why everyone was sad. Granddad’s Island sounds like a good book for this situation.

  4. Loss is very subjective, and not everyone is good at conveying solace.
    Storybooks are good for abstracts, and kids grab the concept/message so much more easier.

    cheers, Andy

  5. Thanks for these helpful titles and you’re right that we have to recognize the subtle difference between being sad and grieving as kids can’t express themselves fully.

  6. I love it that you’ve added kids’ titles to this post. Even if we don’t need it today, we will surely need it one day. I hope with all my might that we won’t have to experience any kind of loss and grief but this is something we cannot avoid. Sigh..

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