How to explain miscarriage to a child?
Opening up about your miscarriage or stillbirth is not a comfortable conversation for anyone to have, especially with your children. But, as tough as it is, talking to your other little ones about what happened is necessary. Starting this conversation may be the starting point of having an honest relationship with your child.
Do I Even Tell My Child About the Miscarriage?
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You may wonder if your pregnancy loss is something your other kids even need to know about in the first place, or if they’re old enough to understand what happened. However, according to experts, you should not withhold this information.
Raphael O. Inocencio, RPsy, Managing Director and Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Better Steps Psychology, Inc, says,
“Loss is always a difficult thing to talk to children about. But I always emphasise that parents need to be honest and truthful with what they tell their children. Sometimes we can underestimate how much they understand.”
You may think that your child would not be affected if you tell them about the pregnancy loss, especially if they didn’t know about the pregnancy in the first place. However, kids usually understand more than we think, pick up on more than we think, and remember more than we think.
Moreover, our children can tell when there has been an emotional shift. Just like they can tell when mummy and daddy are fighting, they can also pick up cues when you are sad or depressed.
Our desire to shield them from the painful information may come from a place of love and wanting to protect them, but the confusion and worry of not knowing what is going on can feel more unsettling than being told, in a supportive way, why you and your partner are feeling sad.
Also, such a conversation can tell children that painful feelings are tough, but they are not to be feared. Also, it opens the family dynamics and creates a culture where everyone can talk openly about their emotions.
When to Talk to Your Child About the Miscarriage
There really is no exact time to tell your child about losing the baby, because it depends on you and your family. Specifically, on your readiness to have this conversation.
If your child knows that you are pregnant and there was excitement about the new baby coming and your child is very involved in the preparations or you have talked about it regularly at home, it will probably be best to tell the child sooner than later.
Doing so spares you from coming up with distractions or lying to your child about what really happened when she asks about the baby. If you are not talking about it, it will not take long for your child to notice and will likely ask about it soon.
That said, make sure you feel prepared and well-supported in talking to your child about it. We don’t mean that you have to wait until you’re confident that you will not get emotional (it may take a while for that to happen) when it gets brought up. But you want to make sure you will be able to stay relatively clear and calm when you start the conversation.
It would certainly help if you have your partner or a family member who will be part of that conversation, in case you find yourself more overwhelmed by emotion than you expect.
How to Talk to Your Child About Miscarriage and Pregnancy Loss
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When talking to children about hard truths, it’s best to talk to them in a way that they will understand, depending on their age. It’s not necessary to go into great detail or use medical terms. Something as simple as “There was a baby inside my tummy before, and the baby didn’t come out the way you did. The baby isn’t with us now” works for younger children.
For older children, you can choose to explain further and give them more terms or details, provided that you’re ready for their follow up questions and to explain more about it.
Dr Inocencio suggests the following steps when considering how to explain a miscarriage to a child:
The best way to go is to be straightforward about it. As mentioned, no need for big words if you feel that it will just confuse your child. Just say, “We lost our baby.” Whether you want to be religious or scientific about it is up to you and how you want to bring up your child.
Prepare for a variety of emotional reactions.
Some children may feel angry, some may be confused or some guilty. It’s important to validate these emotions, and let your child know that you are there to support them. “I know you’re feeling angry/sad/confused. It’s okay. I’m right here with you.”
Give in doses, as much as your child can handle. Take the cues from them.
Instead of doing a litany of what really happened just to get it over with, it’s best to provide young children with small amounts of information at a time. Share a little with them, confirm if they understand what you’re saying and then elaborate further if they have questions.
If, at some point, they want to stop talking about it, respect their wishes and tell them that you’re around if they have any questions about it.
Telling your kids that it’s okay to cry. You can also be vulnerable and cry with them.
“You have to tolerate the discomfort. Tell your child, ‘Our tears tell us that our body is having an important reaction. That makes sense given what we’re talking about.’
You might add, ‘Even when I cry, I am still your parent who can take care of you. I can be sad and strong at the same time,’“ said Dr Becky Kennedy, a parent coach and clinical psychologist based in New York.
Allow conversations and follow up questions, as often and as much as they need them.
Prepare for some follow-up questions and answer your child as truthfully as you can. If you don’t know the answer, you can tell them.
Make sure you’re okay yourself.
Like in every aspect of parenting, supporting kids starts with taking care of yourself – which means tending to your own grief. It may take a while, but make sure you are doing what you can to process your feelings and find the best way to cope with your pregnancy loss.
All children react differently
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The usual reaction of your child would be sadness over not having a sibling or an additional sibling, but don’t be disappointed either if they shrug the news off, or don’t seem to be affected by it.
Remember that we all react differently towards situations, and there isn’t a wrong or right way to feel. If they’re acting indifferent, it’s probably because they don’t feel a strong connection over their lost sibling, since they never got to meet them or be with them the way that you did.
If by some chance you sense a feeling of guilt in your child, remind him/her that your angel baby is now in a safe place but that your child is in no way responsible for the loss—no one is, it was simply something sad that happened.
Navigating this tricky conversation with your children takes mindfulness and care, but when you’re guided by motherly love and instinct, you can’t go wrong.
Lead with the intention that you’re talking about it with your child so that he or she understands that family can be made up of both those who are present physically and spiritually. Wherever they may be, they are all still part of the family.
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