Many parents wonder if it’s OK to show their deceased baby to their other child(ren) and if all this sadness and tears will not be harmful to them.
It is logical for this to concern you. You want to protect your own child(ren) and children around you, such as nephews and niece,s from this immense sadness and you want to keep them away from everything that hurts. Unfortunately, however, that is not possible and as sad it may be: this is the reality.
Research has shown that keeping children away does more harm than good. Children, even when they are very young, feel that something is going on. If you leave them out of it, they may start thinking it has something to do with them. If they see you crying when they have just turned over their milk, they might think that’s why you are crying. Older children can have explained to them in words what happened or what bad news you have heard from the midwife or in hospital. Very young children may not understand words very well, but they often understand the feeling behind it. When you say: “Mummy is very sad because the baby is not doing well. Mummy is not angry with you” they will understand the message behind it.
It can be soothing for you to let your child(ren) sleep over (at their grandparents, for instance), but make sure they can also be at home. Even if you are sad, with you they feel the most secure and even if this situation is intensely sad and is the last thing you want to saddle your children with, it is part of your life and children also see this period as a “life event” they want to be with.
Take your child(ren) with you every step of the way and be honest. Do not use words that are not true. Don’t say that the baby is asleep because then they themselves might get scared to go to sleep. For young children, don’t use words that are too euphemistic or complex, such as “passed on” and “deceased”. As adults, we think the word “dead” sounds harsh, yet this is what children understand. Young children can also be reminded of the characteristics of death. “Look, he has closed his eyes and never opens them again. He doesn’t make a noise, he doesn’t cry and we don’t feed him. He feels cold because there is no more blood flowing through his body”.
Don’t be surprised if, after hearing the sad news, your child(ren) starts to play again soon after or immediately asks questions that have nothing to do with the deceased baby, such as “What are we actually going to do this weekend? “Can I watch TV?” They are just holding on to the everyday routine as a coping mechanism. It gives them a foothold to fall back on what they know. The unfamiliar situation with unfamiliar emotions sometimes makes them anxious. Let them play if they want to. They often come back with questions of their own accord.
Make as many memories as possible together with the children. Young children will forget large parts but their deceased brother or sister will always play a role in their lives. Then it is nice if they can see something again and again later on in the form of photos, videos or things that have been saved from that period.
As crazy as it sounds, it is also good to make memories for the baby you might have after this. For this still unborn baby your deceased child is also a brother or sister and one day this child will grow up and come to understand what happened in your family. Sometimes children who are born after that even indicate that they are so sorry that they were not there, while parents are often just relieved that those children did not experience all that grief. But children see not only the sadness, but also the love and togetherness, and they can see the family they are now part of without being there themselves. They may feel ‘left out’..
- Let your child help with care, e.g. rubbing with baby oil or putting on a nappy. Invite your child to join you, but leave it to your child to decide when and if he or she will join. If your child doesn’t want to come along the first time, don’t be put off to ask again another time, but also don’t put any pressure on them to do so.
- Take a picture of your child(ren) with the deceased baby, unless it gives you anxiety.
- Make videos with your other child(ren). Moving images with sound often make more impression later on and put everything into perspective. Children will hear your voice when you read to the baby and feel that the baby really belongs to the family. Especially for children born after the loss, this is very helpful.
- Give your child(ren) a role in saying goodbye. Have them draw a picture or make something to give to the baby. They can also light a candle or blow bubbles.
- Take your child(ren) into account when choosing the music. Ask them what they would like to listen to.
- Let your child(ren) give out treats at their school/daycare. After all, they have just gotten a little brother/sister, which in The Netherlands is traditionally an occasion to bring treats for classmates. If you find the traditional ‘beschuit met muisjes’ too painful, you can also decorate cupcakes with them or ask them what they would like to treat.
- Let your child(ren) say something about their brother/sister at school/crèche. It often creates more understanding among friends and the teacher/leader.
- Read books on the theme of loss. Choose books to suit your age. There are also special interactive books for children.
Here you can download the e-book ‘The Most Frequently Asked Questions about Children and Death’. This brochure by Riet Fiddelaers-Jaspers and Renske Fiddelaers aims to give you answers at a glance when you have questions about children who are confronted with a loss through death. After all,at the moment you may not feel able to read a book in its entirety. You don’t have to read the entire brochure, you can choose the chapters that contain the information you are looking for. The following topics, among others, are included:
- What can children understand about dying?
- How do you tell them that someone is dead or dying?
- What do you tell children about death?
- What questions can you expect from children?
- How can you involve children with the arrangements?
- Do you allow children to say goodbye?
- How do you explain what a burial is?
- How do you explain what a cremation is?
- Do you take the children to the funeral?
The brochure can serve as a helping hand, or when you are in doubt about your approach due to reactions from others.
In this video Tanja van Roosmalen talks about children and far-reaching events.
Every parent tries to let their children grow up safely. Yet on their life’s path, children can encounter far-reaching events such as the death of a loved one, a seriously ill person in their environment or a divorce from parents.
Parents then often build ‘a wall of love’. But is that really the best way to guide your children through a drastic situation?
Floortje Agema wrote this poem.
I want to protect you
against my powerlessness and my pain
so I’ll build you a little wall
behind which I will hide my sadness
I was alone
whilst lovingly piling the stones
that after all my hard work
I couldn’t see you
and you couldn’t see me
I built a little wall of love
because I love you so much”
“Before the children of five and seven went back to school after the Christmas holidays, we first discussed this with the headmistress. She sent an e-mail to all the parents of their classes so that everyone was informed. The four of us went to school a quarter of an hour after school so that the schoolyard was empty and we were not confronted with all the parents. Then the children in the circle told their story and showed pictures and treated themselves to home-made cakes. “
Paul and Ruth, parents of Mente, Mink, Roman* and Maan
“I was quite scared to hold my little brother. I was eight at the time and thought he looked pretty scary. Now I am eighteen and I am very happy that I did it anyway. I tell about Roman to my friends and then I can proudly show them the picture that was taken at the time. “
Mente, sister of Roman*
“I was very afraid that our little son, who had just suffered two traumas, would be left with the sight of his dead brother in the water. Nothing could be further from the truth. He pointed out his eyes, ears and nose and stroked him in the water while saying “wet, wet” and dropping the drops of water over Grandpa’s arm. It turned out to be a very relaxed and relaxed atmosphere that we remember warmly.
Chris and Dieuwertje, parents of Gijs and Thomas*