10 Things You must remember when breaking bad news to your kid

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“They do not need every bit of information you have. Only tell them what they need to know, based on what is appropriate for their age.”

Dr. Ann Lagges, Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health

Parenting does not come with a guidebook nor do children function with the help of a manual. While most things can be worked out by trial and error, there are some issues that are not so easy to solve. A key example of this notion is how to break unpleasant news to your children. There will be times when parents will have to communicate difficult or unsettling news to their children. Whether it’s the death of a family pet, moving to a new place, parental divorce, or harder still, the passing of loved one – children will need help navigating their emotional responses and behaviors through these tough times. This is indeed a daunting task for anyone who has to disclose unpleasant news to a child and may often find him/herself inadequate to handle such situations. It is essential to understand that whatever might be the situation, breaking bad news to a child should always be handled with care.

Dr. Lagges reminds parents, “Tell them what they need to know, and, if you aren’t sure if they understood, ask them to repeat it back to you so you can correct any misinformation.” Post the disclosure of unsettling news be prepared to answer unexpected questions and provide age-appropriate information.

As a parent, one of the most important parts of your relationship with your kid is communication and maintaining an open and honest relationship with her. Information that is good, bad or indifferent will come into notice of our children whether we like it or not. Therefore, it is better for us as parents to ensure that we be the first news bearers to our children so that we control the environment by making sure that the information being provided is truthful and accurate. Doing this can be a herculean task, hence, we should have some tricks up our sleeve to cushion the blow in the healthiest manner possible.

1. Stay calm:

Get a hold over your emotions when breaking bad news to your child. Don’t allow yourself to be overcome with grief when transmitting news as this can be uncomfortable and scary for her. Be under control and portray that you as an adult will take care of her. She will mirror the severity of a situation based on your emotions. Hence, a calm demeanor is a must in such circumstances.

2. Don’t always wait for the right time:

Withholding information for the correct time can be a bad idea. It is true that certain timings are more appropriate than others; however, putting off a conversation won’t make the news any better. Never avoid any issue for so long that your child gets to hear it from somebody else first.

3. Be emotionally available:

Never leave a child feeling alone and stranded after disclosing unsettling news. If you notice your child withdrawing after being subjected to the bad news, provide reassurance and remind her that she can turn to you for support and love. Remind her that you shall always be present in case she needs to talk and answer all her questions.


4. Be honest:

It is essential to be honest with your child while breaking any unpleasant news. Avoid reframing the news to make it sound better or sugarcoat it to make it appealing to her ears. State the news as it is, however, filter out what is necessary and what is not.


5. Be prepared to answer her questions:

Let your child know that she can ask you anything. Let her also know that you might not have answers to all her queries. Schedule a time when she has enough opportunity to understand and ask things that she wants to know, and you have enough time to explain them too.


6. Validate her emotions:

Encourage her to voice her feelings and let her know that it is OK to feel overwhelmed on receiving bad news. Make her understand that to feel a certain way is entirely normal and there are no right or wrong reactions. Provide comfort and sympathise your kid in anxious and distressing moments. A survey of young adults revealed, those who had access to the information they wanted from their parents in times of crisis were much more satisfied than those who were told to ask “no questions.”

Continue to check in with your child to see how she is processing the news and to help her overcome any hurdles she may have, after learning about the bad news.


7. Disclose information in age-appropriate ways:

Consider the age of the child when breaking the bad news. Explain in a way so that the child understands.

8. Model good self-care:

Modelling healthy coping behaviours, especially in times of crises, can take charge of situations and improve them. You are the emotional role model to your kid; hence, she will copy you to understand what is the appropriate response in difficult times. Give her something worthwhile to follow.


9. Redirect her attention for good:

Try re-directing your child’s attention and energy towards the positive side after a few days upon the disclosure of unpleasant news. It is possible that she does not react to it or avoids talking about it. In situations like these, give her a task to stay busy and have something to focus on that can provide her solace. Encourage her to engage in activities like drawing, playing music, making art projects or journaling (if she avoids talking) that can provide her comfort and be relaxing.


10. Seek help:

In times of distress do not hesitate to reach out for help for yourself and your child. Calling out to your support system and expressing how you feel can relive you and help you to cope better. If you seem to have an extremely hard time dealing with your child when things look to go out of hand, it is essential to consult a child psychologist.

Breaking bad news to a child is one of the hardest challenges a parent has to face nowadays. Moreover, the struggle is real when the parent may also be facing loss, hurt and pain at the same time. As parents, we want to be the protectors of our children’s happiness and feel uncomfortable seeing them distressed. We make efforts to make them calm and try to make their hurt go away and this can only be possible by providing our children with emotional support and a listening ear.

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