What to do
Notifying siblings about your baby's death is no easy task.
It is likely that, so far, you have not had the opportunity to discuss the subject of death with your children nor have you ever thought about how you would want to talk about it. Like all parents, you do not want to cause grief to your children and you would have liked them to avoid being faced with death. This can add additional stress in a moment where you feel vulnerable.
Do not postpone the announcement until later
You might be tempted to postpone the difficult explanations, but know that it is preferable to inform children of the death of the baby as soon as possible. What we hide to children, even with the best of intentions, tend to make them feel insecure and anxious because they perceive their parents sadness without understanding it. Moreover, many parents have informed the siblings about the pregnancy and had them involved in the preparations for the baby’s arrival. They too were waiting.
Having a discussion on the baby’s death helps to put words to what they do not understand and gives meaning to what is happening. Children thus perceive that their parents are present, even if they are sad, and that they accompany them in their grieving process.
Parents should do the announcement themselves
It is preferable that one or both parents announce the news, rather than a third party. You can then control how the facts are presented. Announce the news to all of your children at the same time, if possible. Although most children do not understand as easily as adults the concept of death, they feel part of what is happening and children can help each other during this difficult period.
Should we show the baby?
Just like you, the brothers and the sisters await the coming of the baby. The latter took an important place in their lives. They may have the desire to get acquainted, too, with this baby. And as adults, the sight of a dead baby makes the experience tangible and facilitates the understanding of the events. Children, even young, will not be scared or traumatized if they are well prepared to see the deceased baby.
Also choose a time when you will feel calmer and when you can pay more attention to the children in order to introduce them to the baby. You can also take pictures of them with the baby and family pictures. Children feel valued and proud to feel that they are integrated to such an important event and it will strengthen the parent-baby relationship. If the children could not see the baby, you can show them pictures you have taken.
How and when to do the announcement
Choose a safe place and take care of the children by holding their hands, placing them near you. Speak softly, beginning with what children already know, such as pregnancy, preparing for the coming of the baby, hospitalization of the mother, etc. Then explain in simple words what happened, what caused the death. It is important to use the term “death” rather than using metaphors like “going to heaven”, “make a long sleep” that children might not comprehend. They could then be afraid that the same thing happens to them.
See the announcement as a special time during which the children will have the opportunity to ask questions, to express their feelings. Children need to hear that no one is responsible for the death of the baby and that no one hurt him. Let the children ask questions if they wish. Try to understand the meaning of their questions without guessing what they want to know. It is important that children feel they can talk about the death of the baby and feel free to talk about their feelings.
We should not hide our sadness in front of children
Children learn by mimicking, so, how parents experience their mourning serves as a model. For example, if you keep a happy face in front of them, not to sadden them more, they would understand that the death of someone is not serious or that the baby had little value in the eyes of his parents. If, however, parents openly express their feelings, even those considered negative in society, such as anger and sadness, parents show that it is possible to express emotions.
You can also put words to what you feel, explain that crying is good when they are sad. Also explain that, when someone we love dies, we feel much sorrow. You can also add that, in time, you will feel better and that joy will come back.
How do children perceive death?
Grief is expressed differently in children than in adults and varies according to age. Children often express their grief by their behavior rather than through speech. This is why it is useless to rectify a troublesome behavior. Give them time and keep the routine as much as possible. They will feel more secure. Parents must be compassionate, more tolerant while maintaining the limits normally set.
Before two (2) years, children do not understand death, but realize something important happened in the family. Toddlers are sensitive to what is happening around them and detect changes in the attitude of their parents. These changes make them feel insecure. It is possible to put in simple words how we feel. He will understand the essential and will be reassured.
Between two (2) and five (5) years, children believe that death is reversible. Their role playing games often include death.
Between five (5) and nine (9) years old, children have not yet assimilated the finality of death and believe that the loved one will return.
After nine (9) years, children understand the finality of death and that everyone dies one day.
To help them, you can read age-appropriate books together. You will find some suggestions in our virtual library on Pinterest
Children born after the grief of their big brother or sister
For children born after the death of your baby, it can be difficult to understand what happened. And rightly so, because they have not experienced the mother’s pregnancy or have expected the coming of the lost baby. The death of your baby is an important upheaval that has implications in time and that the following children may feel without totally understanding. They may have trouble understanding the events, especially if the family talks little about the topic with them. Yet this big brother or big sister is part of family history, even if he or she is not physically present.
You can maintain the memory of this big brother or sister in your life during birthdays or at family celebrations. You can remember the name of the baby or their sibling’s rank with your children, show them pictures, etc. Remember that to maintain the memory of a loved one does not mean you brood over your grief to honor the memory of your baby with your children does not mean they will be traumatized. Rather, they will feel that they are part of the siblings, each has his own place and value in the eyes of their parents.