The death of a child at any age is devastating to both parents and their loved ones. Parents that are faced with their baby's death before giving birth may find it difficult to accept their loss. Many expectant parents may be in shock and have trouble processing their child's death.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Explain a Miscarriage or Stillbirth to a Teenager
- How to Explain a Miscarriage or Stillbirth to a Child
- How to Explain a Miscarriage or Stillbirth to a Toddler
After an unborn child has died, parents tend to want to shield their other children from the pain and sadness that follows. The natural reaction is to hide the bad news from them until figuring out the right words to say, if at all. Not knowing how to explain a miscarriage or knowing why it happened are two of the biggest reasons parents struggle with talking to a child or toddler about this type of death.
The following step-by-step guide can help you explain a miscarriage in ways that make sense to children of any age, so they'll understand what it means and what to expect as they cope with their loss.
How to Explain a Miscarriage or Stillbirth to a Teenager
As a parent who has suffered an infant's death, you may not know what to tell others about what's happened. Sometimes it may seem easier not to say anything at all, especially when you have no explanation as to why your baby died.
Whenever a miscarriage or stillbirth occurs, there's often no prior indication of any medical or other issues with the pregnancy.
When explaining things to a teenager, they probably understand more than you think they do. Don't be surprised to learn that they've already taken to the Internet to try and figure out what's happened. When talking to them, know that you're the best person to help them understand and cope with their loss.
Be honest with them, and don't pressure yourself to come up with an explanation if you don't already have one. You can help your teenager process their feelings, answer any questions they may have, and help them grieve. Keep your communication open, and If you don't know why things happened the way they did, say so.
Be ready to answer questions
Teens may either be full of curiosity or show complete indifference to your loss. As with most children, you can expect little in the way of an in-between. Teens are at a stage in their lives when they're balancing between childhood and adulthood and may not be as affected by the loss as you are.
When they show an interest and curiosity, prepare yourself to answer questions you may not have the answers to. For example, a teen is likely to ask you, "what happened to the baby?" or "what did you do wrong?" As painful or shocking as it may be to get these types of questions, try to answer them without allowing your emotions to get the better of you.
Teenagers suffer through many internal emotional traumas as they develop into young adults. The news of the baby's death may create within them misplaced anger and guilt. Offer support whenever needed to process their loss by offering them a haven to share their feelings. Allow them to talk openly about how this has affected them whenever they need to.
Some teens may blame themselves because of their past behavior and attitudes leading up to the miscarriage or stillbirth. Remind them that losing your baby wasn't their fault and that nothing they said or done would have changed the outcome.
How to Explain a Miscarriage or Stillbirth to a Child
Talking to a child about miscarriage or stillbirth requires you to spend more time explaining things than it would when talking to a teenager. A young child is not yet emotionally developed or mature enough to understand this type of loss's complexities. You may need to explain things repeatedly and in ways that they'll appreciate at a young age.
Use language that they’ll understand
A right way of approaching this type of loss with a younger child is to use words and ideas that they understand. This may be one of the first times that they have to cope with death, and they may not know what it means when you tell them that the baby didn't make it.
Depending on the child's age, you may want to look for ways to express the same ideas and concepts using age-appropriate phrases and words. Whatever you do, use straightforward language when explaining things so that you don't confuse your child.
You can say some or all of the phrases below when wondering what you can say to a child:
- "The baby wasn't strong enough to survive and has died."
- "Your brother/sister was born dead. It has made us very sad, but that doesn't mean we don't love you."
- "The baby has died and won't be coming home from the hospital as we planned. We're all sad, and you might see me crying, but I don't want you to worry. It's normal to feel sad, and it's okay to cry whenever you feel like it."
Talking about a miscarriage or stillborn death can sometimes by helped by going through familiar grief rituals. Honoring your unborn child by talking about them and sharing memories may be one of the healthiest ways to cope with your pain and suffering. Parents coping with miscarriage or stillbirth can help their other children heal from the overwhelming pain of losing the baby by holding a miscarriage memorial to honor the life of their sibling who has died.
Consider having a naming ceremony to commemorate and honor your baby and to help all of you heal and bring a sense of closure to your loss. You can also have the children help you put together a miscarriage or stillbirth memorial box.
Things you can include in the box to help you remember your baby are:
- The results of an early pregnancy test
- Your pregnancy announcement or photo of the first ultrasound
- For a stillbirth — a pair of booties, a lock of hair, and photos of your baby
Read to them
Explaining the death of a much-anticipated baby may be challenging to do when you're struggling with your loss. There are several books to help you tackle the subject of pregnancy loss with children when it’s hard to find the right words to say.
Some of the best children's books about death explain the concept of death in an easy-to-understand manner and introduce ways in which a child can cope with their feelings and emotions. Stories can help a child process death, loss, and bereavement.
How to Explain a Miscarriage or Stillbirth to a Toddler
Some parents think that a toddler is too young to understand a sibling's death and may decide to keep the news from them. However, if your child knew about the pregnancy, you may want to tell them about your loss. Young children can pick up on the cues that something's wrong and that you're sad but may be confused as to why.
Keep it simple
Knowing how to talk to kids about death comes down to explaining things to them at a level that they'll understand. They may not yet have developed the necessary skills to process complicated news such as a stillbirth or miscarriage. Keeping things simple and using language suitable to their level can assure that the child will process the information in their way.
Don't place too much pressure on them or yourself to get the point across. Expect that a toddler may show minimal to no reaction or even any interest in the news. Most young children are more interested in how information affects them than how it makes you feel.
Allow them to experience your grief
A child's keenly attuned to your feelings and emotions even when you're trying to hide your pain and suffering from them. From a young age, children are attuned to their parents' feelings and emotions and can sense when something's wrong.
It's okay to let your child know that you're feeling sad over your loss. Allowing them to see you cry and express your grief is healthy and teaches them how to deal with their emotions after suffering through loss. Children learn to grieve from their parents and other adults they're around as they grow up. Hiding your grief may signal your child that it's not okay to show emotion or grieve when someone's died.
Show them extra love and attention
Toddlers can't yet understand loss and grief. Together, you'll both benefit more from giving and receiving extra love and attention during your grief. It's not necessary to have an open discussion with your toddler over your miscarriage or stillbirth. You can say that the baby has died and will not be arriving as planned.
Reassure your toddler that it's in no way their fault that the baby's died and that you still love both them and the baby very much. If you are religious or spiritual, you may want to explain death to them along with those terms. For example, you can tell them that the baby has died and is now in heaven.
Explaining Miscarriage to a Child
When your baby dies, having to deal with your pain and sorrow while trying to explain things to your children may make more of an emotional impact that takes longer to heal than the physical pain you may have endured.
When coming to terms and explaining your loss, remember that it's not your fault. Most miscarriages and stillbirths happen spontaneously and have nothing to do with what you could've done differently. Trying to find ways to heal by going through the grieving process can help you and your children find closure.