5 tips for helping kids understand what's happened.
There is no easy way to talk to children about death. The permanence, the finality of it, is hard for them to understand and hard for us, as parents, to expose them to. In my experience, there is no easy or painless way to go about doing it.
I was 16 weeks pregnant with Evangeline when we found out that her heart had stopped. There was no reason for it, no medical explanation. Our children, ages 4 and 5, had been talking to her and watching her grow with my stomach for months. My husband and I were devastated and at a complete loss for how to tell them. It felt so cruel to willingly introduce them to the kind of pain that we were feeling.
We spent a weekend looking up ways to tell our children, talking to people who had gone through something similar and going over and over it with each other. In the end, we chose to do what we thought was best for our children. While it was not the only way to go about it, it was the way that we think worked best for our children and our family.
1Tell them what has happened in the most honest and simple way possible.
We sat our children down together and very simply told them, “Something happened to the baby while she was growing inside mommy’s tummy that caused her to die. We will miss her very much. Mommy is fine and healthy but the baby is no longer alive.”
Children cannot grasp death. For weeks following the miscarriage my son would ask when the baby would be born and talk about what would happen when the baby came back to life. We would gently remind him that the baby would never be born because she had died. Keeping the explanation straightforward and simple gave them something concrete to hold onto.
2Read them a book that can help them grasp what has happened.
We found a wonderful book calledWe Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead, by Pat Schwiebert. We had it on hand to read to our children after initially talking to them about the baby. The book looks at a family, coping with a very recent miscarriage, through the eyes of the baby’s sibling. He talks about what happened and how everyone is experiencing deep sadness and what it looks like.
3Allow them to grieve; their grief may look different from ours.
Grief looks different on everyone. Children working through big emotions may look like sadness, but it may also look like tantrums, restlessness, anger or excitability. They could be happy one minute and completely obstinate the next. Sometimes, my oldest copes with uncomfortable emotions by laughing and telling jokes. It can seem like she’s being flippant when she’s really feeling something very deeply and is trying to work through it. Whatever a child’s grief looks like, the imperative role of the parent is to offer love, understanding and support.
Sometimes it’s necessary for a child to see a licensed professional and get more tools to cope. I needed to see a therapist for a while after my miscarriage. It is quite possible that a child would need that same kind of support.
4Don’t be afraid to let your child see you processing your grief.
One of the best ways to teach a child not to fear their emotions is by modeling acceptance ourselves. Acknowledging difficult emotions and accepting them for what they are is such a healthy practice for our children to witness.
5Pray for the baby.
When my children asked where Evangeline was, we told them that she had died but that she was safe with God. We include her every day in our prayers. We were able to bury her and we go to the cemetery often to talk to her and to pray for her. Knowing that someone is with her, keeping her safe and loving her gives them so much peace.
This February will mark two years since we lost Evangeline. The kids still talk about her and ask questions about her. They still have sad moments and we meet those moments with honesty and love. Experiencing a miscarriage is devastating. One thing it shares with any other kind of loss is that there’s nothing like it, it possesses its own acute pain. There is no way to navigate through the grieving process cleanly. Being human is messy, it hurts, and as parents we have to teach our children how to sit in the mess and accept the pain without judging themselves for how it makes them feel. That is one of the best things that any parent can do to help their child cope with miscarriage.