As school counselors, we never know what students will bring to us each day, and sometimes their needs are so great, so profound, that it can be overwhelming even for us as trained professionals. Storybooks are a great tool to help students cope with grief and loss!
What Does Grief Look Like in Students?
Grief is defined as deep sorrow.
Students who do not process big emotions, like grief and loss, are at-risk for several physical, social, emotional, and academic hardships:
- Loss of sleep
- Lowered appetite
- Compromised immune system
- Difficulty concentrating
- A drop in grades and academic progress
- Regressive behavior
- Loss of friendships
Read more about grief and loss in students in Part 1 of the Grief & Loss Series.
Helping Students Cope with Grief and Loss
There is no “one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter” approach to supporting students with grief. Each child’s story, experience, and feelings are unique.
Have a “toolbox” with a variety of options at your disposal to help children move forward and heal from the trauma ensued by grief and loss.
Storybooks are a definite must in your Grief Toolbox!
Why Use Storybooks to Help Kids Cope with Grief
Books are extremely effective therapy tools for teaching social-emotional learning skills, like processing grief and loss. Choosing books intentionally can help students connect and express themselves more easily.
Books are also relatable. Students realize that other people have experienced similar situations of grief.
They are also more likely to stay engaged in learning and processing emotions when feeling like they aren’t being asked to open up about their personal situations immediately.
Characters in story books allow for reflection and sharing to happen easily and naturally in individual or group counseling sessions.
Understanding why story books are beneficial to help students cope with loss is great, but it doesn’t get you far unless you confidently know specific books to use!
Here are six great storybooks to include in your Grief Toolbox to help children cope with death:
- “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst
- “Grief is Like a Snowflake” by Julia Cook
- “Lost in the Clouds” by DK
- “The Memory Box” by Joanna Rowland
- “Why Do I Feel So Sad?” by Tracy Lambert-Prater
- “When Someone Dies” by Andrea Dorn
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“The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst
“The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst is the most popular grief and loss story for elementary students – for good reason. Its powerful message sticks with us and offers a special and meaningful sense of togetherness with the loved one that we lost. The story explains that all of us are connected by an invisible string of love.
When we miss someone, they feel a tug on the invisible string, and know that we are thinking of them and loving them from afar. Our invisible strings can connect us to mom and dad while we’re at school, to grandma who lives in another state, to our loved ones in heaven, and to anyone and everyone in between.
No matter what, our invisible strings can never be broken. This story is so touching and beautiful and helps children remember that their loved ones are never truly gone, but instead are with them in their hearts wherever they go.
“Grief is Like a Snowflake” by Julia Cook
“Grief is Like a Snowflake” by Julia Cook is a story about a little Christmas tree whose daddy is cut down and taken away. The little tree just can’t believe that his dad is gone, and begs his mom for an explanation of why this had to happen to his little family. His mom explains that even though his dad’s trunk and branches are gone, his roots are still there, hugging him. And his dad isn’t really gone – he is, and always will be, a part of him.
The little pine tree also learns that everyone experiences and expresses grief differently. Sometimes our grief comes in one flake at a time, and other times it feels like an overwhelming blizzard. All of our experiences, feelings, and journeys are unique to us – and all of them are okay.
“Lost in the Clouds” by Tom Tinn-Disbury
In “Lost in the Clouds”, Billy misses his mom so much. He likes to think that she now lives in the clouds. Billy is happy when he feels the sun shine through Mommy’s clouds when he plays outside with his dad, but other times he feels alone and sad when Mommy’s clouds are dark. He learns that he always has his dad to talk to, and they discuss ways they can feel better together.
This is a great book to help children understand that they don’t have to “weather the storm” of grief all along. It provides lots of hope to little ones feeling very heavy emotions!
“The Memory Box” by Joanna Rowland
“The Memory Box” is a wonderful book written from a child’s perspective. The book explores what it feels like to remember and grieve a loved one. The child in this storybook creates a memory box to keep special items and notes that help him remember the special loved one.
The included parent guide in this book gives parents and other trusted adults advice on how to help little ones work through their big feelings after a great loss has occurred. This book offers a very hands-on approach to processing grief for little ones and shouldn’t be overlooked as you build the grief section in your counseling library!
“Why Do I Feel So Sad?” by Tracy Lambert-Prater
“Why Do I Feel So Sad?” is a great storybook for helping lower elementary students understand loss. It is inclusive and uses age-appropriate words and realistic illustrations while showing what sadness and depression might feel like for children.
Tracy Lambert-Prater writes broadly so that a child can apply this story to many different types of grief. Children are reassured that they are NOT alone in their big feelings. Easy tools are discussed in the story that kids can use to process their emotions like dancing, talking to loved ones, and drawing.
“When Someone Dies” by Andrea Dorn
“When Someone Dies” is a how-to guide for children who are experiencing grief and loss. This book helps kids process their complex emotions in an easy-to-understand way. Mindful strategies and questions can be found in the book to help the exploration of these complex feelings.
The illustrations found in this book help little ones understand even more what grief can feel like and how to work through this big emotion. The interactive piece of this book encourages children to open up in communication with trusted adults–like you, their school counselor!
Using storybooks in your elementary school counseling sessions will help create an engaging and effective way to help grieving children who come into your office.
Read parts 1, 3, and 4 of the Grief & Loss series for more information and related resources you can have handy in your Grief Toolbox to continue to help your students cope with this difficult emotion.