How to Help Children with Grief after a Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Newborn Death.
HopeXchange is proud to welcome guest poster, Valerie Oldfield, bereaved parent, and children’s writer whose background is in education and drama. Most recently she retired from grief support group facilitation, volunteer training as well as grief/death education. Find her book for grieving children, Where’s Our Baby on Amazon.
Just the same way everyone in the family shares the joyful anticipation that a new baby can bring, so does everyone in the family experience the grief when the new life is cut short. People believed for a long time that the youngest family members did not grieve. We know that just isn’t true. Parents can feel lost when it comes to their children’s thoughts and feelings and the subsequent behaviors. But there are concrete ways to bridge the generation gap and to allow room for the conversations when they are ready.
Young children have a very different understanding of the concepts around death:
- they cannot grasp the permanence of death, it is only temporary and the deceased’s body can start to work again, in essence they can come back to life
- dead means sleeping or away on a trip
- they may wonder what the baby is doing now, they still live in a world of magical thinking
But, the sadness all around them does not go unnoticed. Their reactions can run the gamut:
- feelings of guilt, worry, confusion, insecurity, fear and sadness, to name a few.
Young children often react with:
- regressive behaviors i.e., wetting the bed, thumb sucking, neediness, etc.
- they may repeat the same questions many times
- their play may include themes of death and they can have a newfound interest in dead things
- they may just as easily withdraw or lash out with playmates
With this knowledge we can aim our support to their special needs by:
- most importantly, having children participate in any services or rituals the adults choose to do
- accepting their behaviors, including regression
- giving lots of hugs and other contact
- encouraging them to play and draw so that they can work through their feelings and get a break from them as well, that is most natural for children of this age
- allowing quiet times for them to express how they are feeling
- using children’s books, around the topic of baby loss or any loss, can start the conversation
- answering all their questions with simple explanations
- not straying from their usual routines i.e., bedtimes, etc.
- letting them cry and not hiding your tears in front of them
As a family, you will learn to live with the loss, each in his own way, and in his own time.