Author: Becki Gascoyne

The death of a child, for any family, is devastating. For parents who have surviving children, knowing how to support them through this family bereavement while, at the same time, coping with their own grief can bring additional concerns and emotions.  

 

Families often ask us how they can support their living children with their grief. We respond to each family with information that is specific to their individual circumstances, but there are some areas of advice that are helpful to any family bereaved of a baby, which we will explore in this blog. 

(If you are looking for support for your own family, please contact our service using the online referral form and a member of our clinical team will be able to provide you with specific advice relevant to your family circumstances.) 

Children's Grief Reactions

It is common for adults to expect grief to affect children in the same way it does adults. However, the way a child reacts is significantly influenced by their age and stage of development.  

As a child develops, so too does their understanding of death, and it is this understanding that affects their reactions.  For example, young children do not have a good understanding of what death is, and struggle to comprehend the permanence of death.  Therefore, they tend to react instead to the changes to their day-to-day life, such as changes in routine, the emotional atmosphere etc. For more information on age-related grief reactions, click here. 

Telling children that a baby has died

Telling a child that someone has died can be difficult for adults as the natural response is to protect them by softening the information using phrases such as ‘they’re a star in the sky’, ‘passed away’ etc. However, for children, this type of language often causes more confusion and therefore it is more helpful to be given clear information in small chunks, using age-appropriate language.  

We have written more in-depth advice around this here, just select the age you are looking for advice on and scroll down to the section titled ‘talking about death with children’ 

We also have a blog about family communication following a death which you may find helpful. 

Telling children about miscarriage or stillbirth

Just as with explaining the death of a baby children have met, explaining the death of an expected baby is a very difficult thing to do. However, when children have been looking forward to the arrival of a new sibling, it is important that they are able to understand what has happened. If a baby died early on in a pregnancy before children had been told, even young children will notice that something is not right and will respond to the change in behaviour of their parents. Therefore, even with early pregnancy loss it is important to give children clear and honest information. A lot of the same principles as mentioned earlier will apply to these conversations but for further information Child Bereavement UK have some specific advice on their website.  

Remembering

When supporting bereaved children, helping them to remember the person who died can be very healing. This might feel difficult after the death of a baby as there will not be as many memories to recall. You might find it useful to create a memory box, where you can store photographs, scans, clothes / blankets etc. This gives children a tangible object for them to connect with the baby who died; this can be particularly helpful if they were not able to meet the baby before they died. Remembering can be more thajust recalling memories, it can also be in the act of acknowledging a baby’s life by talking of them, remembering them on special occasions such as their birthday, mentioning their name when talking about members of the family etc.  

Looking after yourself

At SeeSaw, we often say to parents that one of the best ways they can support their children is to make sure they are looking after themselves. As a parent your children are dependent on you for everything, and when you are grieving this can be especially difficult. Many parents will focus on their children’s needs at the expense of their own, which often results in pushing their feelings down and making grief more complex and sometimes resulting in burnout. When you see yourself as a priority, it is easier to be able to give your children what they need. It is similar to when you are told on an aeroplane that you must see to your own oxygen before assisting children. Without your own oxygen supply, you cannot successfully help a child find theirs. The same applies to grief.  

The Baby Loss Awareness Week Website has shared a list of suggested ways you can look after yourself which we have included them below.  

 Everyone is different, so you may not find all these helpful, but find what works for you: 

  • Change settings on social media to avoid certain content which you may find upsetting or difficult.  
  • Talk to people through the #BLAW network. Many of our (Baby Loss Awareness Alliance) organisations provide support, and you may make connections with people who have shared similar experiences  
  • Take a moment to recognise your emotions. Know that everyone grieves differently, and your feelings are valid. There is no right way to feel when you are grieving.   
  • Journal your thoughts and feelings  
  • Use affirmation cards or practice meditation  
  • Remember you are still your baby’s parent no matter what – are there things you can do to include them in your family?  
  • Get some fresh air – if feelings become overwhelming, step outside and breathe deeply for 5 minutes. What can you hear? What can you see? This small action may help to ground you  
  • Ask your friends and family if they are able to help you with practical things or looking after siblings? 
  • Rest is important for your wellbeing, be kind to yourself and let your body guide you and tell you what it needs. 
(Taken from Baby Loss Awareness Alliance:https://babyloss-awareness.org/day-2-of-baby-loss-awareness-week-looking-after-yourself/)

Getting support

SeeSaw provides support and advice to families around how to help children when a sibling has died. However, you may wish to explore what support is available specifically for parents who have experienced the death of a baby. There are some fantastic charities and organisations out there who can help. The Baby Loss Awareness Alliance website has a comprehensive list of charities you can contact for support. 

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