Whatever the age of your children, they need to know
about the baby's death. The reaction to the loss will depend on many things
including maturity and verbal ability.
What do you tell your children after the death of a baby? Most professionals agree about being honest and open with your children about your sadness. Answering their questions about death is a healthy, effective way of including siblings in the grieving process.
Your initial reaction might be to try and protect your children from feeling your sadness or seeing you cry, but if children feel left out and alone with their thoughts and questions about the baby's death, they have no way of relieving their feelings about the loss.
Preschoolers will view death as temporary because the
concept of "permanent" is hard for them to understand. You might gently say that the baby is not coming back; when the child is older, understanding will come. Reminding them of a pet who has died or the death of a grandparent may help them to understand what death means for the baby. You can also remind them what living means: breathing, talking, walking and eating. Death is the absence of these signs.
Younger school-age children may develop fears which grow out of fantasies about their own or their parent's death. Because openly dealing with strong emotions is difficult for this age group, they may deal with them little by little over time in their questions, in dreams and in their play.
- Do not refer to death as going to sleep forever
because your children might develop fears of never waking up again after going
to bed at night.
- Death should not be linked too strongly with illness
either as this may lead to fearfulness or panic if a minor illness develops in
the child or a family member.
- Many children will want to know why the death occurred. If the reasons are
unclear, saying you don't know is all right.
If you believe in a hereafter, share this belief with your children, but be cautious in telling children that God took the baby to Heaven. This can cause resentment against God or a conflict in the child's mind about being loved by God.
Preteens and teenagers have a somewhat more adult view of death and grieve much the way that you will. They understand the permanence of death but may need to deal with issues of why and of blame. This is especially true if the baby was unwanted by the sibling. Explain that no family member could have caused or prevented the death by their actions, thoughts or wishes.
If possible, include your children in the baby's funeral or memorial service. If you explain beforehand what to expect from the service, your children will be better prepared to attend the ceremony. If, despite preparation, the children do not wish to attend, it is probably best not to insist.
Months or years after the death, children may need to rethink the event and begin again to ask questions about the baby's death. Any major event in a youngster's life is commonly reworked in adolescence and should be viewed as normal.
Professional counseling or group sharing may be helpful for the entire family so children can experience free expression of their grieving without feeling that they are making the grieving process more difficult for the parents.
Explain that no family member could have caused or prevented the death by their actions, thoughts, or wishes.