How to talk more openly about baby and child loss
Taking place from 9-15th October, Baby Loss Awareness Week is a time to raise awareness of pregnancy and baby loss. Among those affected are children who may have lost a much loved or much hoped-for sibling.
Children and young people grieve just as deeply as adults, but they show it in different ways. When your baby dies, it can feel difficult to know how to tell your child and support them.
We’re here to support you, so this blog will help you talk to children about grief and encourage them to share their feelings. Read on for more information.
Understanding how children may feel
After the death of a sibling, a child may feel a range of emotions, from sadness and anger to confusion and worry. They may also feel concerned that they or another family member might die.
Younger children often move in and out of their grief very rapidly, sometimes seeming sad and then suddenly wanting to play. This ‘puddle jumping’ is normal and is a young child’s way of coping with difficult emotions.
Children under five may show their distress with disrupted sleep, altered appetite and less interest in play. There may be a regression in skills such as language or toilet training, or they might become anxious about the dark when going to bed.
‘Magical thinking’ is a characteristic of primary age children meaning that they may believe their thoughts and actions caused someone to die or that somehow, they can make the person come back. Answering questions and giving age-appropriate information is key to supporting children at this age.
Teenagers may become withdrawn and ‘act out’ their distress through behaviours. Keeping to the usual boundaries of acceptable behaviour can be reassuring for bereaved young people and give them a sense of security when everything else might feel out of control.
As well as changes in behaviour, some children may react physically with headaches, stomach aches, anxiety, sleep problems and appetite loss.
With support from family, most children will not need professional help. However, if you have any concerns, you may find it helpful to talk to your GP or to seek help from a bereavement group.
Explain what has happened
It’s important to tell your child that your baby has died as soon as possible in a safe, comfortable and familiar environment. If telling your child feels overwhelming for you, enlist someone close to you to help break the news. Don’t be afraid to tell your child that you’re feeling upset and finding it hard to talk. It’s best to be as open and honest as possible.
How much detail you choose to share depends on your child’s age and understanding. Let your instincts guide you and if you’re not sure what to say, ask your child what they know so that you can gauge their level of understanding, allowing them to steer the conversation if they feel confident enough. They’re likely to have questions, so try to answer them as best you can, or they may fill the gaps with scary or anxious thoughts.
Use simple language
Try to use simple language that is appropriate to your child’s age and understanding. Avoid using euphemisms such as ‘sleeping’ which can suggest your baby will wake, or ‘lost’ which suggests they can be found. Instead, use real words such as ‘dead’ and ‘died’. Child Bereavement UK suggests saying the following to a young child if a baby is stillborn, for instance: ‘While still inside mummy’s tummy our baby died before they were born, which is very sad.’
Depending on how old your child is, you may have to explain what has happened repeatedly as their understanding develops. As they get older and their understanding grows, a child may revisit their grief and have additional questions and concerns.
Show your emotions
Don’t be afraid to show your emotions in front of your child. It’s natural to want to put a brave face on, but it’s important to show that crying is a normal reaction to grief. Reassure your child that you’re not crying because of them or something they’ve done. By sharing your feelings with your child, you can demonstrate that it’s OK to show sadness. If you are open, your child will feel able to share their emotions too.
Encourage your child to grieve
Finding ways to remember their baby brother or sister is an important part of the grieving process. Encourage them to draw pictures, make a memory box or write a letter to their sibling. These small things can help them maintain a connection with their sibling and gives them a chance to say goodbye. Child Bereavement UK’s animation, Remembering someone special who has died, suggests ways children and young people can remember someone important to them who has died.
A very young child, toddler, or even a baby can go to a funeral with the rest of the family. Although they may not understand what is happening at the time, when they are older, they will appreciate that they were a part of this important event along with everyone else. Ask someone close to your child to join you in case your child gets upset or becomes restless and wants to go out. It may be hard to have to deal with your own grief and theirs.
Child Bereavement UK has created two animations which can help you prepare a child for a funeral – Explaining funerals to children -what happens at a burial? and Explaining funerals to children- what happens at a cremation?
Maintain a routine
Children feel safe and comforted by following a routine. While your days may look slightly different, if possible, try to keep certain things the same – like a daily bath, a trip to the park or a bedtime story. Maintaining familiarity is reassuring for children – especially at a younger age. If you need to be away for any time, let your child know for how long and who will be looking after them.
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask a loved one for help. For example, a grandparent or friend may be able to take your children to school, giving you some time and space to grieve and to try to find time to look after yourself.
There are also many charities and support groups that you can turn to. For example, Child Bereavement UK provides confidential support, information and guidance to individuals, families and professionals throughout the UK. The support team is available to respond to calls, Live Chat or email from 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday (except bank holidays). Call 0800 02 888 40 or email [email protected]. For Live Chat, click here.
Join us for our Baby Loss Service
Now in its 21st year, Baby Loss Awareness Week is a wonderful opportunity to bring our community together and give everyone touched by the loss of a baby a safe and supportive space to share their experiences and feel they are not alone. Join us and other families for our special service on October 15th and light a candle in memory of all babies that have gone too soon. Please join us after the service for tea and cake. Everyone is welcome!
Services will be taking place in Chiltern, Colney, Epping Forest and Kemnal Park. Book onto a service here.
Visit Child Bereavement UK’s website for more information and guidance on supporting a child or young person when a baby dies.
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