As a school teacher I often began a lesson, with gr. 1 or gr. 8s, using a picture book that helped me set the theme for the lesson. It gathered us all together, as we hunkered down for a good read. Such stories can help young people understand issues and topics range from bullying, having Down's Syndrome siblings, to dealing with sociological issues such as divorce. As a teacher of those who fled the Gulf War books helped children understand what another goes through. My favourite was Petronella (now out of print): the story of a child leaving Grandma overseas to come to our Canadian Prairies. These kinds of stories give context and meaning to a child's situation. It lets them know they are not alone and they are not at fault.
Health issues concern the entire family. When a parent is caring for their parent time is taken away from children. I was adopted late in my parent's lives for the time, and my children were all in their twenties when my parents became ill. That said, many families are facing serious health issues that take much time and energy.
I happened upon a book in our Huntsville bookstore: Still My Grandma. It is a lovely book, with sensitive drawings and text that helps a young child, and their parent, understand that Grandma is still Grandma.
If a loved one is in LTC, there are still many things you can do with them. They subtly give suggestions on things children can still do with ailing family members: looking at old photos, hugs, memories, holding hands, sitting on her lap. It says that while "most times Grandma forgets my name, we still have our traditions".
I spent months feeding my dad meals. It was a poignant time, when he no longer could understand the function of forks and knives. He looked forward to my visits, I found out later, while the dementia increased and his brain cells died.
A recent article, "Learning from the Disease: Lessons Drawn from Adolescents Having a Grandparent Suffering Dementia" talks about, "Five learning and 4 coping strategies emerged from the analysis. Adolescents reported about the value of life, the complexity of the life-span, and changes in personal characteristics such as patience and responsibility as a result of the experience."
There is much to learn by caring for one another. Children, including adolescents, need to talk about changes to loved ones.
A video about the sandwich generation talks about 20 million Americans looking after seniors. This family in the video moved, as did I, to care for ailing parents.
Also: books for the Grieving Child:
• What Color is Death, Daddy?
An interactive book for children ages 3-7
• The Kaleidoscope of Grief: When Children Experience Death
An interactive book for Children ages 7 and up
• Kaleidoscope book En Español
• Helping Grieving Children
A helpful brochures to help others understand how to help children.