Talking to Children About Miscarriage

Mother and young boy talk on playground equipment

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When a miscarriage happens, sometimes the hardest people to talk to about it are your other children. Depending on the age of your kids and whether you told them about the pregnancy, you may need to say something.

Talking to Kids About Pregnancy Loss

Even as the parent, it might be hard to figure out what to say. Here are some things to keep in mind when talking to your kids about a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Older Children

If your children are teenagers (or preteens), be upfront and explain what happened in terms that they can understand. Reassure them that you are OK and that having a miscarriage or stillbirth does not mean there is something wrong with you.

Explain the reasons why miscarriage and stillbirth happen and make sure that they understand nothing could have been done differently to prevent the loss.

Recognize that your older children might grieve the loss of the baby along with you. The baby you lost was your older child's brother or sister, and they may also feel a sense of loss.

You can allow your older children to comfort you as long as you recognize that they also might be grieving. In some cases, a miscarriage might bring your family closer together. It also allows older children to practice empathy.

While these opportunities for connection and growth do not take away from your family's grief after a miscarriage or stillbirth, they might be a small "silver lining."

Younger Children

If you told your younger children about the pregnancy, you will need to explain that something has happened to cause the loss. Use words and concepts that they can easily recognize and understand.

For example, young children might not understand words like "miscarriage." You might need to provide definitions and explanations in simpler terms.

If your children are too young to understand the concept of pregnancy, or if you did not tell your kids about the pregnancy, you might choose not to divulge that you had a miscarriage.

Children tend to pick up on the emotions of the adults around them and their behavior might change in response. If your young children act more clingy or upset than usual, try to be patient and understanding.

Your kids might be picking up on the fact that you feel sad without knowing why. In this case, you might need to provide some kind of explanation.

Helping Kids Process the News

Regardless of how old your kids are, there are several strategies you can use to help them process the information you have given them. Here are some things you can do.

Emphasize That It's Not Their Fault

If your children are old enough to perceive and understand that you are sad, be sure to emphasize that it is not their fault (regardless of the explanation you choose). You will need to make it clear to them that you are sad because you miss the baby, not because of anything they did (or did not do).

Reassure your children that you love them and answer any questions they might have about what happened.

The U.K.-based Miscarriage Association suggests parents use an analogy where pregnancy is explained as being like planting seeds in a garden—only some seeds grow into full plants. You might not need to go into great detail with small children. You might prefer to explain that the baby just wasn't growing properly or that it could no longer stay in Mom's belly and leave simply leave it at that.

Encourage Family Activity

Regardless of your children's age, consider doing something together as a family to say goodbye to the baby. For example, you might choose to have a burial or plant a tree in the baby's memory. If you are religious, you might want to use a tradition that is meaningful in your faith.

For children (especially younger kids) the "sitting still" part of grieving that is required at gatherings or services can be difficult.

Creating a memorial garden is one way you can include your children in honoring your baby. The activity can help them cope with their grief while also allowing them to move around.

Taking Care of Yourself

There's an old adage that goes, "If Mom ain't happy, nobody's happy." There is a lot of truth to that statement. Parents set the mood for family interactions. One of the most important tasks for parents is helping their kids find ways to cope with their own grieving.

First, they need to ensure that they are taking care of themselves. Coping with a recent miscarriage will be different for every parent. Distractions can be helpful, but don't try to escape your grief.

Resist the urge to busy yourself with other activities to get away from your grief. Grieving is how you recognize that your miscarriage mattered—and that it hurts.

Lean on your support system of friends and family. Find people to talk to who can simply listen and won't feel a need to try to "fix" things. You might find comfort from talking to others who have experienced a miscarriage. Sharing with another person can be very healing, but only if the other person is coping well with their own loss.

You might develop depression following a miscarriage. This is normal. You might also experience complicated grief, anxiety disorders, or even post-traumatic stress disorder following a miscarriage.

If you become depressed or anxious after a pregnancy loss, know that it is not a sign of weakness to seek out counseling.

If your grieving feels like it is more than "normal grieving" talk to your doctor. They can help you get the support you need. Remember that taking care of yourself is necessary before you can help your family cope.

The Bottom Line 

As parents, we often do everything possible to protect our children from sadness and bad news. Unfortunately, there are times when the desire to protect our children can actually leave them feeling more alone and frightened.

Grieving in kids can look very different from grieving in adults. Additionally, when a kid sees their parents upset, they might do everything in their power to cheer them up. In the midst of their grief, parents might misconstrue the behavior as meaning their child is unaffected by the loss.

As a parent, you might struggle to talk to them about the loss. Only you know the best way for your family to process their grief. What works for others might not be what is best for you.

You're likely to get a significant amount of advice on how to go about the grieving process from well-meaning friends, but what would work for your friends with their own children won't necessarily be the best for you and your children.

Trust that you are in the best position to help your child grieve.

Children's Books About Pregnancy Loss

There are several books that can help you tackle the subject of pregnancy loss with younger children, including:

  • Molly's Rosebush by Janice Cohn and Gail Owens. This book targets children ages 4 to 7 and offers an anecdote in which a young girl named Molly is sad about her mother's miscarriage. Her family works through their grief together and plants a rosebush.
  • We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead by Pat Schwiebert and Taylor Bill. This 24-page picture book that aims to help parents explain pregnancy loss to children.
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By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.