Your Other Children
Other children can be a blessing, keeping you going, helping you to get out of bed each morning and providing some distraction from your grief. Remaining emotionally available and sharing love for one another is mutually helpful. Your children can be very supportive of you and other family members, resulting in relationship becoming stronger over time.
Parenting is challenging especially having to explain why a sister or brother died and, in the process, answering some very tricky questions. It is hard enough to answer them for yourself, let alone for your children. In the circumstances, you and your partner might feel resentful, pressured, even overwhelmed. You could even want to withdraw from your children for a while. Try not to do this as it could cause friction and draw criticism from others.
Your children could feel vulnerable and more at risk, finding the world a much scarier place. Therefore, they might regress, needing extra reassurance. However, be careful, because it can be easy for you to become over-protective. This could make them more fearful, undermine trust and delay the process of them coming to terms with their grief.
“When the baby died, she got away with ‘murder’ but I was just so pleased she was there. It didn’t matter to me what she did…the whole situation got out of balance.” (Nerida, grandparent)
“It is vitally important for parents to realise that their children’s adjustment and understanding of their sibling’s death will not be achieved in a short time. It will be built upon over years. This is a good thing and should alleviate some of the guilt initially felt by parents that they haven’t done a good job in helping their children.” (Jenny R)
“I am so protective of our other child. I wake once or twice a night to go and check she is alright. No matter what she does, I always think of the worst thing happening to her.” (Leanne)
“There was a whole new culture in the house after Danielle died. Everything was different, bed routines were gone, meal-times were changed. We needed to take control and re-establish routines.” (Melissa)
In time there will be opportunities to share memories, look at photos, and retell the story of their sibling and other activities honouring the memory. This will help to continue the bonds, especially at key times such as Christmas and anniversaries which benefit you, your children and other family members and friends.
“Involve your kids in everything. They have some great ideas and you make them feel wanted by allowing them to have input into the funeral, cemetery visits and so on.”(Peter M)
“When Hannah was three, we walked past an open grave. She said: ‘When I die will I be put in a grave?’ I had to say yes, but that she wouldn’t die until she was very, very old. I didn’t want her to think that it would be soon.” (Jenny R)
“Kitty writes letters to Jesse and draws pictures of the whole family. Jesse is an angel with a big, broad smile. He looks the happiest of us all!” (Ally)
Your child’s world could now seem unsafe and insecure and so normal routines are important. Keep to the usual rules and consequences for misbehaviour. Don’t overcompensate by buying extra toys and treats. In particular, it is important to:
- Answer their questions honestly and sensitively and in a way which is appropriate to their age. This will build trust that they can share their fears and other feelings with you. If this is too difficult for you, at this time of grief, maybe a close relative or friend can help. As time passes, they are likely to enquire further as an integral part of growing up.
- Acknowledge difficulties with parenting. Seek support and understand that this need not be a long-term problem.
- Explain clearly to your children that your sadness, emotional distance and occasionally ‘losing it’ is not their fault. Be aware that your own relationship concerns can affect them.
These and other issues, together with helpful responses from parents, are discussed in detail in the Red Nose Grief and Loss booklet: What about the other kids?
This article was prepared using extracts from When Relationships Hurt, Too.1 The full text is available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.
Last reviewed: 21/1/20
1. den Hartog, P.N., Bereaved Parents & SIDS and Kids NSW and Victoria (2014). When Relationships Hurt, Too: The Impact of Grief on Parents’ Relationships after the Sudden Death of their Child. , Malvern, Vic.: SIDS and Kids NSW and Victoria.