Talking to Children About Miscarriage

Mother and young boy talk on playground equipment

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When miscarriage strikes, sometimes the hardest people to talk to about it are your other children. Depending on the age of your children, whether you told them about the pregnancy or not, you may need to say something—and even as the parent, it might be hard to figure out what that is.

Tips for Talking Children About Miscarriage or Stillbirth

Here are some things to keep in mind when talking to your other kids about a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Older Children

If your other children are teenagers (or preteens), the best thing to do is be upfront and explain what happened in terms that they can understand. Reassure them that you are fine and that the miscarriage or stillbirth does not mean anything is wrong with you; let them know that these things just happen sometimes. Talk about the reasons why miscarriage and stillbirth happen and explain that nothing could have been done differently to prevent the loss.

Recognize that your older children may grieve the loss of the baby along with you. The baby you lost was your older child's brother or sister, and he or she may feel a sense of loss when hearing the news of the miscarriage.

It is okay to allow your older child to help comfort you, as long as you recognize that she is grieving also. In this setting, your miscarriage may bring your family closer together, and allow your older children to practice empathy. Certainly, this does not take away from your grief or her grief at all but maybe one small "silver lining" in your experience.

Younger Children

For younger children, if you told them about the pregnancy before the loss, you will need to explain that something happened. Again, be sure to use words they understand. Young children might not understand words like "miscarriage" and might need explanations in simpler terms.

If your children are too young to understand the concept of pregnancy, or if you did not tell your children about the pregnancy, you may choose not to divulge information about the miscarriage.

Remember that children tend to pick up on the emotions of the adults around them. So, try to be understanding if your young children act more clingy or upset than usual.

They may be picking up on the fact that you feel sad, in which case you may need to give them some sort of explanation.

How to Help Children of All Ages Process the News

Regardless of how old your kids are, try the following strategies for helping them process the information they've received.

Put Emphasis on the Fact That It's Not Their Fault

If your children are old enough to understand that you are sad, whatever explanation you choose, be sure to emphasize that it is not their fault. Explain that Mommy (or Daddy) is sad because of missing the baby and not because of anything they did, and reassure your children that you love them. Answer any questions your young children have about what happened.

In its pamphlet on talking to children about miscarriages, the U.K.-based Miscarriage Association suggests that some parents use the analogy of pregnancy being like planting seeds in a garden—only some go on to grow into full plants. Others simply say that the baby wasn't growing properly or it couldn't stay in Mom's tummy, and leave it at that. Remember that you may not need to go into great detail with young children.

Encourage Family Activity

Regardless of your children's age, consider doing something together as a family to formally say goodbye to the baby. Have a burial or plant a tree. Or, if you are religious, use a tradition meaningful in your faith. 

Creating a memorial garden is a way to honor your baby while including your children in an activity that not only helps them cope with their grief, but allows them to move around and be active.

For children, the sitting still part of grieving may be as difficult as the grieving itself.

Why Taking Care of Yourself Is Critical to Helping Your Child Cope

There's an old adage that goes, "If Mom ain't happy, nobody's happy." There is a lot of truth to that statement. Mothers (and often Fathers as well) can set the mood for family interactions. Taking this knowledge to the setting of pregnancy loss tells us that perhaps the most important thing grieving parents can do for their children is to find ways to cope with their own grieving.

Coping with a recent miscarriage will be different for every parent. Distractions can be helpful, but don't try to escape your grief or busy yourself with other activities to get away from your grief. Grieving is an important way to 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 don't feel a need to try to "fix" things. Many people find comfort in talking to others who have experienced a miscarriage themselves. Keep in mind that sharing with another can be very healing, but only if your friend who experienced a miscarriage is coping well with her own loss.

Some people may develop depression following a miscarriage. This is normal, and it is not a sign of weakness to seek out counseling to help you cope with your loss. In addition, some women can experience complicated grief, anxiety disorders or even posttraumatic stress disorder following a miscarriage. If your grieving feels like more than "normal grieving" make sure to talk to your doctor in order to get the help you need. Taking care of yourself is essential if you are to help your children 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 this desire to protect our children can actually leave them feeling more alone and frightened. Grieving in children can look very different from grieving in adults. In addition, a child—seeing her parents sad—may do everything in her power to cheer them up. In that process, it can be misconstrued by grieving parents that the child isn't grieving herself or affected by the loss.

It's important to allow your younger children the opportunity to grieve, but only you as a parent can know the best way to talk to your children.

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.

Book to Help You Discuss Pregnancy Loss With Young Children

A few books exist to help discuss the subject of pregnancy loss with younger children:

  • Molly's Rosebush by Janice Cohn and Gail Owens targets children ages 4 to 7 and offers an anecdote in which a young girl named Molly is sad about her mother's miscarriage, but the 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, is a 24-page picture book that aims to help parents explain pregnancy loss to children.
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