Most children experience the death of a family member or friend by the time they complete high school; and one in 20 children face the death of a parent by age 16.* Don’t wait until children experience anxiety, depression, regression, nightmares, bed-wetting, and poor school performance because they were blindsided by the inevitable. As adults we cannot always control life circumstances for the children in our lives, but we can help them to be prepared.
The American Federation of Teachers found that 7 out of 10 teachers have a student in their classroom who is grieving.** Ideally, the conversations should to be started at home. But take some solace, it’s not like children have not seen death. It’s on the local news, in most every action movie a child has seen, and front and center in any children’s show about animals and nature.
You will likely not be the first to introduce the idea of death and illness to a child. But you may be the first and perhaps the only one who actually does so in a heartfelt, holistic, and meaningful way. The reality of hard issues is that they need to be personalized in a way that imparts value and intrinsic cultural views. Don’t leave it up to the world to impart its values about whether there is an afterlife or not, let a child hear thoughts and opinions from a trusted source —you.
The world will teach children whatever it wants with or without parental consent or governmental regulations. I have learned that everyone has a point of view, a philosophy, and a belief system that they strive to articulate by whatever means suits them best. Artists paint what they see and how they feel about it. Actors, directors, and singers preach their politics and religion either directly through their art or via their fame. Writers literally write their own version of realty. For example, modern culture glorifies reincarnation through all mediums of art. Children pick up on this, they are like sponges.
Whether children go to public, private, or home schools, they will hear many different perspectives on everything under the sun. It’s never too early to appropriately introduce them to the important stuff before someone else does it for you. The first impression is often the most important.
That’s why I wrote the Charlie and Chocolate books. I wanted to provide a medium for parents to casually introduce important topics like prayer, religion, family sickness, and even death in a way that would not overwhelm but could open a dialogue to as little or as much as a child might naturally respond to. By writing solid, meaningful stories with relatable characters it encourages children to glean as much or as little about the subject matter as they can understand or as the adult chooses to point out and explain.
The Charlie and Chocolate books are chock-full of adventures and possibilities. The characters are as real as the situations they find themselves in, and the illustrations offer whimsy and extraordinary beauty. I have found that adults enjoy the books as much as the children they read them to—and why shouldn’t they, adults are just big kids at heart, right?
So don’t wait until someone else teaches the young ones in your life about these important topics in a less than truthful or meaningful way. Get a copy of Charlie and Chocolate’s Purrfect Prayer and Charlie and Chocolate’s Furry Forgiveness and give it to someone you care about. The great thing about books is that they can be shared over and over again.
* Mahon M: Children’s Concept of Death and Sibling
Death from Trauma. Journal of Pediatric Nursing,
1993: 8(5): 335-344.
** Research conducted by the New York Life Foundation, 2012.