How to talk to your young child about miscarriage
Young children have little to no concept of how a baby comes to be, but for a young child the news of a baby on the way is often received with excitement, curiosity and joy. The child may tell others, “We’re having a baby” and be met with smiles, encouraging words and statements celebrating the change on the horizon. When suddenly the baby is no more and the joyful atmosphere is now sorrowful, the child may feel confusion, sadness, anger and even guilt or resentment.
Below are tips from Dr. Lauren Starnes, a child development expert, chief academic officer for The Goddard School, for talking to young children about a miscarriage.
- If your child knows a baby was coming, it is important to explain directly and simply that the baby will no longer be arriving as expected. When talking with your child about the loss of an unborn baby, it is always best to talk at a level they can understand and start with a simple statement about what has happened and how you feel. For example: “I think you saw Mommy crying. Mommy/Daddy and I are sad because we are not going to have a new baby right now. We both love you very much.” The goal is to share the important information and reassure your child.
- Pause so your child can process the information. There are emotions to understand, and it may take your child a few moments to process what was said. If your child’s response is silence, that’s ok. A simple follow-up question — Are you okay? Do you have any questions for me? How are you feeling? – allows them to respond if they wish.
- If your child asks questions, answer them in simple terms both reassuringly and clearly. Provide a basic explanation and express the family’s hope for another baby (if that’s the case). Avoid metaphors and abstract phrases. Some families may choose to offer faith-based responses, such as “the baby is in heaven” or “we need to pray for Mommy.” Keep in mind the child’s age, ability to understand and familiarity with the faith concepts being offered. The goal is to offer honest reassurance. It’s ok to tell your child you don’t have the answers. Reassure them that their health and well-being are not tied to the loss of the baby and reiterate that your child is healthy and you are happy to have them in your life.
- Prepare for unexpected responses. Young children aren’t always aware of what “should” and “should not” be said. This lack of life experience can lead them to make statements that are unexpected and may feel hurtful like “At least no one else is going to die” and “I don’t want a baby.” Preparing for such remarks and considering why a young child might respond this way can help you support your child and buffer yourself from emotional reaction. You know your child and your family’s situation. As you continue talking with your child, use your own understanding of your child and take care not to jump to conclusions about how they are feeling.
Talking together again at different times will help you better understand how your child feels and what support is needed.
Courtesy of Kate Grodsky