It can be a difficult and overwhelming task to tell your children about the loss of their sibling. It can be even more difficult if it is the first time that you have experienced this type of loss. You are also dealing with your own emotions and struggles regarding the loss. In this blog post, we will discuss when and how to tell your kids about a pregnancy loss or infant loss so that they will understand what happened in an age appropriate way.
This is a situation that you will want to talk with them about as soon as possible after the loss occurs, even if it has only been a few hours or days since they have known about the pregnancy and/or infant death. It is always better for them to know what happened directly from you than to find out on their own by overhearing it.
If you would like to read more about dealing with emotions during pregnancy loss, read A to Z Emotions of Pregnancy Loss: Understanding the Grief Process.
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When should you tell them?
There is no universal timeframe for when you should tell your children about the loss. Some people will want to tell them right away, while others will wait until they are older or more mature before telling them. There is no right or wrong time to tell them.
There are many factors that can come into play when deciding when to tell your other children about the loss. Some things you might consider are:
-How far along were you when the loss occurred?
-Did they know about the pregnancy and baby already?
-How old are your children?
If you are further along in the pregnancy and your children are already expecting the baby, you should be honest with them about what happened. They will be confused about why the baby is not coming home if you do not thoroughly explain what happened. If you were still early on in the pregnancy, it is up to you whether you want to be open and tell them what happened, wait until they are older, or do not tell them at all.
How should you tell them?
There isn’t a perfect way to explain the loss of their sibling. There also aren’t any rules about what type of language that you need to use when talking with your children. It is important, however, to be honest and open with kids no matter how old they are.
If they already knew about the pregnancy and baby, you should consider telling them that things did not work out as planned. If they are old enough to understand what happened, it is helpful for them to know why this occurred instead of just being told not to ask questions or given an answer like “we lost him/her.”
Use age appropriate language
Using age appropriate language to explain the loss to your child can be helpful. For older children, you can explain to them that their sibling died and the causes, if you know what they are. Older children might have more detailed questions and it is important to be open with them. Try not to get upset when they ask questions. They are trying to process and understand what happened.
For younger children, explain that their sibling will not be coming home. It is important to explain this in a way that they can understand. Do not be afraid to still use words like “death” or “died”. These are not bad words, even though they can sometimes be uncomfortable to say. They might not understand what it means yet, but will likely ask questions as they get older. You can remind them that “our family will always love him/her no matter what.”
No matter the age of the child, give them time if they are having difficulty processing the loss of their sibling or seem more upset than expected. You might need to talk with your child’s pediatrician or a counselor about how to help them recover and process the grief. Children can sometimes show grief in unexpected ways.
How will they react?
There is no way to know exactly how your children will react when they find out about the loss. Some might cry, others might have questions and take time processing it before asking you anything else. There isn’t a right or wrong answer as to how your children may handle this type of information at their age level.
Most children will show grief in different ways. Some may become depressed or anxious. Others might also act like nothing happened and go back to playing right away. This does not mean they are not upset by the news. They may just take more time to process it. This can sometimes make it even harder for you to know how well your child is coping with the loss of their sibling.
When we lost Jasmine, our son was almost 4. We were unsure how to tell him at first. We sat him down and explained that Jasmine had died and that she would not be coming home. He was young and did not completely understand everything we were saying. He changed the subject and started playing. As he has gotten older, he has asked more questions about her and gained a deeper understanding of what happened.
Some kids may also be afraid that something bad will happen to them or that they will get sick or die. It is important to reassure them that they are healthy and will be okay. If your child asks more questions than expected, it is okay to say you do not know all of the answers right now but you can look for some together.
It is important to know that children are resilient. They may have a hard time adjusting to the loss at first, but most kids cope with these types of losses well over time.
Tips for Telling Young Children
-Use age appropriate language
-Do not be upset if they do not seem to show any grief or sadness when you first tell them
-Do not be afraid to use words like “death” or “died”
-Let them know that they are loved and will always receive support from you
-Answer any questions they have
-Try drawing pictures or doing another activity to help them work through the emotions
Tips for Telling Older Children
-Try to answer their questions, but keep in mind that it might take a while for some of the more difficult questions to come up
-If their sibling died as a result of an accident or illness, make sure to tell them what happened so they can better understand why it occurred
-Make sure to let them know that they did not cause this or do anything wrong
-Give them time if they are upset
-Allow them to talk about the loss when they need to, even if it is emotional for you
Remembering the Baby Together
After you have talked about the loss, you can do something together as a family in memory of your baby. You could plant a tree or memorial garden, write letters to the baby, talk or share memories, or make a scrapbook. It is important to do something as a family that can be helpful for everyone and help you all remember your baby. Even if you were not that far along, you can still do something together to include your baby.
When the due date or birthdate comes up again, you can make a cake together and sing Happy Birthday or have a celebration for them. Not all the memories regarding the loss have to be sad. You can still celebrate the impact they had on your lives and how they will always be a part of the family.
Allow them to talk about their sibling when they want to. This will help them form a connection with their lost sibling. They may want to draw pictures for their sibling, create a memory box or write letters.
When you take family pictures, you can include an object that represents the lost child. This way, your children will always know that their sibling was important to everyone and they were loved by all.
Your baby will always be a part of your family and you should actively look for ways to include them when possible. Not only will this help your children feel closer to their sibling but it can also be healing for you. This is important because even though they are gone, their memory will still live on in the lives of everyone who loved them.
It is important to remember your lost child and talk about them, but it can be hard to know how and when to tell your other children. Make sure you give them time if they are having difficulty processing or seem more upset than expected. Be clear and open with them to help them understand what happened. It is okay to not have immediate answers to all their questions. Do the best you can and work through the grief together as a family. This situation is new for all of you and there is no right or wrong way to explain the loss to your kids. I hope this article on how to tell your kids about a pregnancy loss has been helpful. Are there any other tips that you think should be included or that helped you tell your kids?
If you would like to read more pregnancy loss related articles, try these:
A to Z Emotions of Pregnancy Loss: Understanding the Grief Process
24 Books to Read After a Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Pregnancy Loss
7 Ways to Reconnect With Your Partner After a Pregnancy Loss
15 Songs About Baby Loss
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