Having to explain the concept of death to a child, no matter what age, is a daunting task for a parent. It is especially heart-breaking to have to explain to them that their little baby brother or sister has passed away. Not only are parents grieving the death of their baby, they have to help and watch their other children grieve the death of their sibling.
In their grief, parents have one of life’s most difficult “teachable moments” in that whether they know it or not, they are modeling grief and mourning behavior to their children. From this, children will start to develop long lasting coping skills related to grief and sadness. Children need to see their parents be sad and see them cry, both moms and dads. This shows them that it is perfectly acceptable to be sad, to cry and to show their sadness over their loss. Children need to see their parents communicate and to talk about what they are feeling. This shows them that it is a good thing for them to verbalize their sadness and talk about it. Children need to see their parents hug each other and children need to be hugged and loved. This shows them that despite all the sadness their parents still love each other and that they themselves are still loved. These small lessons in grief will help them develop coping skills as they age so that when faced with the death of a loved one in the future or a future sadness, they have the coping skills to handle it.
When helping your child(ren) through their grief, answer their questions, even the hard ones. It is perfectly acceptable to tell them that you don’t know the answer to their question but that you will find out and get back to them. My daughter asked me some amazingly insightful yet challenging questions and I often found myself telling her that I wasn’t sure of the best way to answer her question but I would think about it and tell her when I did.
Here are some other ideas that may help you help your child(ren):
- Give your child appropriate choices whether it is allowing them to help choose your baby’s final clothing or helping to pick out the flowers they would like to have at the funeral or memorial
- Talk about their sibling that passed away. Remembering is an important part of the healing process
- Listen to them without judgment. Instead, reflect back what your child has told you and use open ended questions to encourage the discussion, “What has that been like?” or “How does that make you feel?”
- Most importantly, take a break. Deliberately make time to have fun with your child(ren). Have a movie party, go out to dinner, invite friends and family over, go shopping, go ice skating, go to the park, go to the movies, or just play at home. It will be good for all of you!