Telling children about the loss
Although telling your children about the loss of the baby may be difficult, it is important to be open and honest. As a parent, you have a good sense of what your children are able to understand.
- Try to tell children about the loss of their baby brother or sister as soon as possible. If you are not able to tell them, perhaps another person whom they trust can do it for you.
- Try to gear your conversations towards your children's ages and maturity levels. Be as simple and honest as you can be.
- When talking to young children, keep in mind that they are likely to interpret what you say very literally. For example, saying "The baby went away" may mean that he/she is coming back. Also, saying, "We lost the baby" could give the impression that you will find him/her.
- If you don't know why the baby died, let your children know this. "We don't know why she died, but we know that nothing anyone did, said, or thought, caused this to happen."
- Try to avoid saying that the baby was sick. This may cause your child unnecessary worry when he/she gets sick with a cold or when you get sick. If the baby had a known problem or defect, you can name this problem ("The baby had a heart problem). Be sure to reassure your child that this is not something that he/she can get.
- Your child may ask a lot of questions, or may ask the same questions repeatedly; it is important to answer these questions simply and consistently.
Growing up with a loss
Reading together often encourages conversation. Click through the gallery on this page to see a variety of books for children.
As your child reaches new developmental levels, their grief may resurface. This is okay and is an opportunity to show your continued support.
It is important to remember, though, that childhood grief reactions will manifest differently in all children. It is not unusual to notice physical complaints, such as stomach-aches, or witness changes in sleeping and eating patterns. Particular grief behaviors and emotions may come and go, sometimes suddenly or frequently. This is expected. Your child may revert to old behaviors; this is okay.
Very young children who are not yet verbal may notice the absence of their sibling and the changes in family dynamics, and will react in various ways.
Children often use play as a way to process what they are feeling.
Navigating a child's grief can be an incredible challenge, as their understanding of death, physical and emotional reactions and coping strategies within the different developmental levels vary by their age. Most important to remember is that all children grieve differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor set stages a child will pass through.
For additional resources to support children with grief, click here.