Helping Kids Cope with Trauma, Loss and Separation: Spotlight and Giveaway on Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs

I’m ecstatic to share a new resource that will help kids cope with grief, loss, separation and trauma. These two beautifully written and illustrated books are a must for any hospital playroom, school, home, or setting that works with children.


Guest Blogger, Susan Bernardo

My picture book Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs was born in 2012, when I was going through a painful divorce and trying to comfort my kids (and myself!). At the same time, an artist friend of mine, Courtenay Fletcher, had just lost a dear friend to breast cancer, leaving behind a five-year-old daughter. The two of us wanted to create a book to reassure kids that love is forever and we are always connected to the people we love. Courtenay’s illustrations are colorful, soothing and inclusive – and there are hidden hearts, Xs and Os so kids can look for love on the pages! We are so honored to see the book being used in a variety of settings to help kids deal with loss, grief and separation – from hospitals to shelters to foster care and more.


In a magical turn of events, Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs found its way to Le Var Burton, the actor and host of Reading Rainbow, who invited us to collaborate with him on The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, a picture book to help families cope with traumatic events. The storm provides a metaphor for the turbulent emotions that swirl through us when something bad happens. The main character, Rhino, goes on a journey to release the storm within him – and finds many helpers along the way. The book deals with difficult topics in an engaging, accessible way – and there are even discussion questions at the end so that caregivers can facilitate a healing dialogue with children after reading the book. The Rhino book has had an amazing journey since its release in 2014, appearing on Good Morning America, and being read aloud by VP Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama to military kids. It was even sent on a rocket to the International Space Station to be read by an astronaut for Storytime from Space!


Illustrator Courtenay Fletcher (left) and author Susan Schaefer Bernardo first met in a Mommy and Me class 12 years ago when their kids were babies. Life led them down a new career path together: creating books to help families heal. Their third book, The Big Adventures of Tiny House, will be released in Spring 2017.


Choose one or more ways to enter to win your copy of Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs or The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm

  1. Sign up for email notifications at and leave a comment on this post.
  2. Facebook: Follow Child Life Mommy, leave a comment and tag a friend on the post.
  3. Facebook: Follow Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs and leave a comment on their page.
  4. Twitter: Follow, Like and RT the post to @ChildLifeMommy and @SusanBernardo
  5. Instagram: Follow @ChildLifeMommy, Like and Tag a friend in the post.

Winner will be chosen 2/2/17

Related Articles:

“I wish that Mommy never dies.” Helping my preschooler cope with grief and loss

How we helped our kids cope with a pet loss

8 tips to help kids with separation anxiety

“I Wish That Mommy Never Dies” Helping My Preschooler Cope with Grief and Loss

"I Wish That Mommy Never Dies" Helping My Preschooler Cope with Grief and Loss.jpg

While visiting family during Christmas break, we decided to grab a bite to eat. There was fountain that would be a great distraction for my 4 and a half-year old, while we waited to be seated. As I handed my son pennies to toss into the water, I had no idea that he would have such a powerful wish.

“I wish that Mommy never dies.”

His words took my breath away, as I just stood there with a handful of copper pennies that were meant for garbage trucks, police cars and Legos.

Our family had experienced 4 deaths in just a short ten months and my son was realizing the permanence of these deaths.

As a child life specialist that works to support children’s grief, I was witnessing my own son’s emotional torture of understanding death, coping with his fear of loss and trying to understand why his French Bulldog couldn’t come back from heaven.

When we returned home from vacation, his grief began to manifest and triggered some separation anxiety. His transition back to school was challenging, bedtime was a struggle and I noticed that he was constantly following me around the house.

One night before bed he asked me if I was going to die. Part of me wanted to say, “No, never. Don’t think like that.” However, I took the alternative route of responding with empathy.

“You are so worried that something will happen to me. You love me so much and don’t want me to leave.”

He knew that I understood his fears and I was giving him permission to express them.

Our conversation continued with lots of reassurance on how I take good care of my body and will hopefully live to be 100. We ended our talk with lots of giggles, cuddles and reminders that no matter where we are in the world, we are always connected.

After I put him to bed I had a plan in my head to help him work through his grief and cope with the separation issues. So this is what I did:

Lots of validation

As soon as he began to get slightly upset about going to school, I named and validated his feelings. “You really don’t want to leave Mommy. You miss me so much when you are at school. I miss you too.”

Normalize his emotions

I try to then follow up the validation with normalizing his thoughts and feelings. “It is so hard to go back to school after such a long break. Lots of kids feel the same way.”

One on one time

I make sure to spend some extra time with him each day. We sit and eat lunch together, I hold his hand and carry him around while I smother him with kisses.


I get on the floor and play with him using a child-centered approach. He leads, chooses the activity and has much control as possible. I narrate what he is doing, name feelings and just stay present in the moment. It is a nice way for us to both feel reconnected.


I don’t want his teachers to become frustrated with him as he struggles to separate from me at school. So, I am honest about the losses and let them know that we are helping him work through it.


I provide him with a variety of activities that promote self-expression, coping strategies and memory making around the losses.

The other day he was getting worked up about going to school, so I introduced him to an  activity about staying connected.

First I read him the beautifully written and illustrated children’s book, The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst. It instantly resonated with him. Then using construction paper, markers and lanyard, I helped him create his own invisible string.


He had lots of choices during the activity of what color paper, markers, freedom to draw whatever he liked, and the length of the string (which ended up being 8 feet). He then practiced  pulling on the string, as I acted out the tug from my heart. His face lit up with a  smile and I knew that he was beginning to feel a bit more safe.

Grief is hard to deal with, but if you allow kids to feel and express the unpleasant emotions through empathy, play and patience, they will develop healthy coping strategies and resilience.

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