Ask a Mom: Miscarriages, Return-to-School Anxiety, and Screen Time
WBTV's Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions in this ongoing series
Q: How do I talk to my 4-year-old about miscarriage?—Becca
A: Oooohhhh … what a good question. One in four women have a miscarriage, but lost pregnancies are generally not something women discuss publicly. Finding the right words can be hard—especially if you’re trying to explain it to a child.
To get your answer, I turned to Wanda Miles.
Wanda is a former nurse from Bradford Clinic in Charlotte. This photo of us is from one of my check-ups while pregnant in 2014. Before she retired a few years ago, she was the nurse to Dr. Stephen Moore, who delivered all three of my children. Wanda held my hand every step of the way for my first two babies, and through my sudden miscarriage in the years between them. She is a no-nonsense woman who laughed during my OB-GYN visits, and always—always, always, always—kept everything authentic and real.
I hadn’t talked to her in five years when I read this question, but my gut told me to text her to ask for her help in answering. She quickly wrote back with realistic and comforting advice.
“First, as the mother, you have to be emotionally ready to have the conversation,” Wanda says. “You have to accept the loss and give yourself permission to say you did nothing wrong. Realize that being pregnant is the most precious gift any woman could ever receive. Sometimes that gift works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, it’s no fault of your own.”
Then, she added, you must know your child.
“How old is that child?” she asks. “Are they in a position to understand what this loss means? Did they see your tummy? For instance, if you’re five or six months gestation and a 4-year-old has had loving moments with seeing mom’s stomach move, or was excited about touching or kissing their soon-to-be sibling … then there will be questions. If they haven’t had those moments yet and it was an earlier miscarriage, you might not have to go into as much an explanation.”
But what do you really say?
“Whatever loving words come to you,” Wanda says. “The word ‘loving’ is key. Use that word when you talk about the loss, but also explain with a loving tone. Let the child know how much you love them. Help them remember the excitement everyone had. Most importantly, let them ask questions. Reassure them it wasn’t your fault, or their fault. Hug them. Kiss them. Let them know how much you love them. Most young children react to a parent who is grieving and if they see you continue to grieve, they may continue to ask more and more questions. Let them ask and be honest when you talk with them: Kids appreciate directness and can see through sugarcoating better than adults. They need to know a miscarriage is a death. The baby will never come back again. They may ask if it could happen to them… or to mom. (‘Could Mommy die?’) Just listen and stay consistent with your reassurance. Acknowledge that the both of you are in great health and continue to use all the words of love.”
Tons of gems in that previous paragraph, including, my new favorite phrase:
“…stay consistent with your reassurance.”
Reread Wanda’s advice whenever you feel a need. She’s the real deal.
Q: Any tips for dealing with my third grader’s anxiety about returning to in-person school four days a week? He loves his school pod and whines and cries about going back to “real school.” I can’t deal with the daily tantrums anymore and I’m running out of ways to convince him that he can’t do homeschool forever.—Lauren
A: This is more kids than you might think, says Sue Hooper, an educator for over 20 years who currently works within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. She is seeing many students who don’t want to come back to school after being virtual for the last year.
“Each student has their own specific reasons,” she says. “Some students are simply uncomfortable with a change in their routine, especially if what they’re changing is a pod situation they like. As the parent, you’re going to have to figure out what’s causing the resistance.”
Sue says wait until your child is calm before asking why he or she doesn’t want to go to school (an evening or weekend, not a school morning or during a tantrum), give them time to talk about their concerns, and don’t give up.
“Really listen,” Sue says. “Really hear your child. Then think about their reasons. Give their answers time to sink in and don’t just quickly respond. Try not to contradict their reasons, rather, validate their concerns. Then, think how you can redirect their concerns. Also, consider talking to the teacher. There may be things a teacher can do to help ease your child’s fears.”
Sue also recommends reaching out to school counselors and school psychologists. “That is what they are there for!,” she says. “Ask them for help. They can check in on your child during the day.”
Though morning tantrums can be wildly difficult—I hear you and am with you—Sue reminds us that parents are the first line of defense. She says we should be giving clear messages about a daily routine. Wake kids up at the same time each day, have them make their beds, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, comb hair, get bookbags together, shoes on, etc.
“Give goal chart stickers or stars for each part of the routine accomplished without a meltdown,” she says. “Rewarding success usually works. On the flip side, if your child misses school one day, be careful what is allowed while at home. If staying at home means watching TV or playing video games, you’ll hamper whatever progress you’ve made.”
Sue says for a small percentage of students, consistency and contact with the school won’t work. If you are multiple weeks in and severe tantrums continue, she said that might mean a larger anxiety issue that needs more professional help.
However things play out, she adds, cut yourself a break. It has been a difficult year.
“We’re all figuring it out,” she says. “Educators and parents. It’s just important to be firm and consistent. This is how our children grow. If your child doesn’t want to go to school, ask for their reasons and as long as you know they’re safe in going back into class, be firm about making it a routine. Change takes time.”
Q: What should I do when my child doesn’t want to get off this Xbox thing?—Jennifer
A: How to limit screen time: The never-ending concern and eternal goal, with zero clear-cut answers. Ask 50 parents and you’ll get 50 different screen time household rules.
Whatever works for your family is ultimately where I land—survival has been the name of the game during our last 13 months in a COVID-world—but to get you actual helpful advice, I took your question to Rebekah Talley, MSW, LCSW, RPTS, and owner of Zola Counseling in south Charlotte. (The last four letters in her many accreditations stand for Registered Play Therapist Supervisor. She knows this topic.)
“Parents should give warnings, not just cut the equipment off at once,” she says. “I encourage using 15-and-5-minute warnings, as well as a 1-minute ‘wrap up’ to help support a smooth transition. It’s also good to empower the child with some level of the decision-making. This would sound something like, ‘_____ (name), you have 1-minute left to save your game or get it to a pause point.’”
If your child chooses not to turn off the screen, she recommends using more reflective or validating statements. An example: “You love this game so much. It is fun to play. I really wish we didn’t have to have you turn this off.” She says this lets the child know they are heard and understood. From there, use choices to promote good decision-making in the moment and let the child take part in the process. An example: “You can choose to turn the game off, or you can choose for me to turn the game off.” If they don’t turn it off, make that choice for them.
If this creates a battle, Rebekah says to bring it up the next day.
“I recommend parents talk about the impact of the child’s choice,” she says. “Say to them, ‘When you choose to sign off the Xbox within the time you’re supposed to, you are choosing to use the Xbox again tomorrow. When you choose not to sign off when asked, you choose not to use it tomorrow.’ It can also help to have an identified activity ready after the screen goes off. A snack, dinner, story, family game, etc.”
She said to also remember that implementing new limits can sometimes cause behaviors to worsen before they get better.
Thanks for sending such good questions. Keep your thoughts coming. You ask, I’ll answer. Just go to the homepage of Charlotte Parent’s website and scroll down to the right. You’ll see the box to type in your questions.
Until next month… (or tonight at 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 11 p.m.)