How To Have Conversations About Grief With Young Children
When I first read The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld, I sobbed at the end of it. The author takes a common and relatable example of building with blocks and having your creation knocked over to help children understand different stages of grief. Immediately, I saw this as an incredible teaching tool for young children, but how do you catch their interest when having important conversations about grief? We do this by adding play!
How to Use Books And Play to Communicate Grief with Kids
Each character in The Rabbit Listened represents a different way of dealing with grief.
First comes the chicken. He wants to help our protagonist Taylor by talking about what happened, but Taylor doesn’t feel like talking. Next comes the bear. He says she should yell about it, but Taylor doesn’t feel like yelling. Next in line is the elephant. The elephant suggests remembering exactly the way things were and building the tower again just the way it was, but Taylor doesn’t feel like remembering. The hyena follows suggesting that Taylor should laugh about it, but Taylor doesn’t want to laugh. The ostrich suggests hiding, the kangaroo suggests cleaning it all up, and the snake suggests knocking over someone else's tower. Then comes the rabbit. The rabbit is quiet. So quiet that Taylor doesn’t notice it at first. The rabbit slowly moves closer and closer to Taylor until she can feel the rabbit’s soft warm body. The rabbit doesn’t say a word. It simply listens. It listens as Taylor talks. It listens as she yells, remembers, laughs, wants to hide, tries to clean it all up, and makes plans of knocking over someone else’s tower. The rabbit listens as Taylor essentially goes through all of the stages of grief. And the rabbit continues to listen as Taylor makes plans to build something even more amazing than before.
Play Can Help Kids Process Difficult Emotions
The incredible thing about this book is that we all experience these different feelings when grief or tragedy hits. We go through different stages of grief, and learning how to navigate those feelings and emotions can be extremely difficult, especially for young children. Children have the same big emotions as adults, but they need help navigating those emotions.
By using Safari Ltd’s animals to role play the story of The Rabbit Listened, we were able to discuss how sometimes when something bad happens we feel like yelling, sometimes we feel like hurting someone else, sometimes we feel like hiding, etc. and all of those feelings are okay. As adults we need to be the rabbit in this situation. We get to listen to our children navigate those big emotions and be there for them to help them through it... until they are ready to “build again."
Using figures can be an extremely effective tool in helping children understand more in depth concepts.
It might seem overwhelming to talk about grief with young children, however, through play we can discuss the stages of grief that we all experience in a relatable and playful way. Children are able to grasp concepts that are beyond their years as we role play these scenarios with them. As I first introduced this idea to my children, we started out with role playing the book completely. We built our towers, had something come and knock them over, and took turns being the different animal characters in the book.
This made talking about the stages of grief engaging for my children, as well as understandable and accessible for them. Using tools such as picture books and figurines when talking about emotions and grief can open up conversations that are not only important and empowering, but conversations that will give children the tools necessary to understand big feelings that can otherwise be scary.