How to Talk to Kids About Trauma, Loss, and Illness

Should you talk to a child, teen, or even a young adult about chronic illness? Are you allowed to use the words illness, sick, dying, and death when talking to kids? How young is too young to tell the absolute truth about these life difficult topics?
These are hard conversations, but they are important to have. I was honored to be part of The Chronic Connection Podcast and share strategies for parents and caregivers. Take a listen below.

Lulu Faces Loss and Finds Encouragement: Children’s Book Spotlight and Giveaway

You know how much I love adding new resources to support children coping with life’s challenges. I’m so excited to introduce a newly published children’s book, Lulu Faces Loss and Finds Encouragement, written and illustrated by Danica Thurber. This book is a great tool for caregivers, child life specialists, and therapists helping children understand and cope with terminal illness and loss. 

Guest Blogger, Danica Thurber

Eight-year-old Lulu loves her Grandma. But after getting sick with cancer, Grandma can’t go outside and play with Lulu. She has to stay in bed. 

Soon, Grandma gets very weak and loses her hair. Lulu and mom visit Grandma every day they can. In school, Lulu learns how “encouragement” can help people find hope and gain strength. She begins to make and find small “gifts of encouragement” to help Grandma smile. 

Little did she know that Lulu, mom, and grandpa would all need to encourage each other once Grandma was gone.

Helping Children Cope

Give children a way to creatively express their thoughts and emotions about death and grief.

Follow along with Lulu as she navigates her first major loss, and then walks through the first few months of grief, finding support and encouragement along the way. 

Based on the author’s own experience of childhood loss, parents and caretakers will find this book a great support in engaging children in difficult conversations about cancer, hospice, death, and grief.

Best for: Grades K-3

BONUS material inside: instructions for a CRAFT PROJECT just like Lulu makes in the book!

Purchase your paperback or a digital copy on Amazon today.

Learn more at and follow on Instagram and Facebook.

Author Bio

Danica Thurber is an artist, children’s book author, and certified Therapeutic Art Life Coach. At the age of 12, she began to use art as a mode of therapeutic self-expression, following the sudden death of her father. Danica and her husband live in beautiful Boise, ID. They share a love for art, a passion to help people, and a deep adoration for Midnight, their little black cat. “Lulu Learns Encouragement: A Gift to Share In Times of Loss” is her first published children’s book.


“This beautifully, uncomplicated, and simply stated book is beyond precious in every way. As a mom who has lost a child, explaining grief and ways to help my other young son was a difficult process but this book explains how to encourage those who are grieving in a wonderful way. It truly is a sweet and loving sentiment from any adult to any child. It completely resonates with my life and it will be a permanent addition to our bookshelf!”  

– Vee Anstey

As a teacher, I would certainly add this book to a classroom set for elementary students! Featuring a diverse cast of characters and with a focus on empathy for other people, the story is perfectly set up as a read-aloud, age-appropriate discussion, and includes a practical follow-up activity that empowers kids to take initiative and reach out to others around them who are experiencing illness or loss. 

– Lane (School teacher)

We will be giving away a copy of Lulu Faces Loss and Finds Encouragement to one lucky winner.

Choose one or more ways to enter:

  1. Sign up for email notifications at and leave a comment below.
  2. Facebook: Follow Child Life Mommy and tag a friend.
  3. Instagram: Follow @ChildLifeMommy and @ProjectGriefArt tag two friends in the post.
  4. Twitter: Follow, Like, and RT the post to @ChildLifeMommy.

Good luck, the winner will be chosen by 11/16/20.

Supporting Parents Through a Child’s Medical Diagnoses: Spotlight on Case for Smiles’ Coping Space

Supporting Parents Through a Child's Medical Diagnoses Spotlight on Case for Smiles_ Coping Space

Guest Blogger, Cindy Kerr from Case for Smiles

As child life specialists, you understand the importance of providing support to children and their families. So much of what you do every day – from addressing parent’s concerns about a diagnosis to helping kids find the words to express how they are feeling – is centered on advocacy and providing relief, which are both essential to fostering positive coping techniques.

Ensuring that kids are at ease during hospital stays has personal importance to me. When my late son Ryan was diagnosed with osteosarcoma over a decade ago, I searched for ways to bring a smile to his face. One of the things I did was sew whimsical pillowcases to brighten up his hospital bed (you may have seen them at your hospital).

Coping Space Logo-1

Ryan’s legacy lives on through the nonprofit organization Case for Smiles. Our mission is to help children and their families cope with the stresses of life-changing childhood illnesses and injuries.

From the beginning, our primary focus has been on working with volunteers to sew and distribute pillowcases to children in hospitals (1.7M delivered to 362 hospitals so far), and it still is. However, we realized that there was more that could be done to provide emotional tools that promote healing. That is why we launched a comprehensive online resource called Coping Space, which is designed to help families, schools, communities, and health professionals find information on medical trauma.

The impetus for creating Coping Space came from what my family experienced after Ryan’s diagnosis. My life lost all sense of normalcy, and I worried about so many things when it came to Ryan and his two sisters, and of course my husband Gavin. During hospital visits, the staff was very helpful, but then I would come home and forget to take care of myself. I thought, like many moms do, that my role was to keep everything together. I pushed the anxiety and worry to the backburner and soldiered on, which in hindsight I realize wasn’t the best thing to do. To this day, I still experience symptoms of PTSD, which I now know isn’t uncommon.

Through my work, I’ve had the privilege to know leading Clinical Psychologist Dr. Anne Kazak, who writes extensively about the ongoing distress that some parents experience after a child’s illness. In one study that Dr. Kazak did on pediatric cancer, she found that 20% of families (30% of mothers) observed had at least one parent who had PTSD and posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS), which include:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma through triggers
  • Avoidance
  • Feelings of emotional numbness
  • Hyperarousal (jumpiness, altered sleep patterns, trouble concentrating, irritability, feeling threatened)
  • Constant fears and anxiety

These shocking PTSD rates are comparable to combat veterans. However, there is hope. What research has found on a consistent basis is that symptoms of trauma can be lessened, and wellbeing optimized through coping methods aimed at reducing stress.

The resources at Coping Space were written in partnership with leading pediatric stress and cancer organizations who lent their expertise to help create content for the site: The Center for Pediatric Traumatic Stress (CPTS), co-located at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children; The Devereux Center for Resilient Children; and Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

We offer tips, strategies, and support that can be used before, during, and after a child’s hospital stay. The resources at Coping Space are continually updated and expanded, for instance, there is a blog where we hope to share coping stories. As child life specialists, you know that there are not many vetted online sources for information to share with young patients and their families. We are proud that Coping Space was created with extensive input from our Associate Director, who is trained as a child life specialist with knowledge of how effective the coping recommendations are at reducing symptoms of stress and trauma.

From the beginning, Coping Space was conceived to expand the focus from concentrating on the ill or injured child and their parents to reach a wider variety of audiences. Currently, the Coping Space resources are designed for children, siblings, parents, caregivers, the community, and schools. We also offer a special section on resilience because developing the ability to bounce back from adverse situations is critical to coping.

The work you do as a child life specialist is invaluable. I understand the effort and time spent assembling materials to respond to a family’s needs. I also know that there is no one-size-fits-all coping solution. My hope is that Coping Space becomes a go-to place that provides comprehensive materials—digitally and in print—that you can use to help children, families, and friends cope with a life-changing diagnosis in childhood.

Visit Coping Space today at and be sure to follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.