Life happens and unfortunately families sometimes encounter situations that can truly “shake” everyone. At some point you may need to share bad news with young children, which can be tough. But in many cases it needs to be done. Here are some pointers on sharing bad news with kids.
- Take your time (within reason). Taking your time allows for you to digest and process the news. Many times initial reports can be confusing for everyone so wait until you have the full story. Then figure out the best time to share the information. My advice is not to wait too long.
- Choose a comfortable place. When sharing the news with a child it’s important to find a quiet, safe and familiar place. It’s critical to be somewhere the child feels at ease as well as an atmosphere where communication can be clear.
- Use appropriate language. Sometimes it’s important to use specific terms or words to fully describe a bad situation but keep in mind the age with which you’re sharing this bad news. The best way to ensure you use the right words is to think ahead about what you want to say.
- Plan and process your “speech.” Do not enter a potentially emotional situation without first rehearsing and planning what you are going to say. Establish a “script” that will; a) give the details, b) share how those details would affect the child(ren), and c) reassure the child(ren) that you will support them. Although, things won’t always go as planned, having a general discussion map will give you confidence.
- Reactions will vary. Kids react to bad news in various ways. They may cry, they may shutdown, or they may be angry or confused. It’s imperative you be open to child(ren) no matter how they react. Stay patient and continually show support. Don’t get frustrated if the child(ren) reacts in a way that you weren’t expecting.
- Have continuing conversations. This is not a one-time conversation, it will continue for a while. Whenever possible ask simple open-ended questions and listen to the child’s answers. Keep the situation in front of the child and help them process and react as they live in this new reality.
- Find support. Chances are that the bad news you shared with the kids is bad news for you too. Connect with your pastors and other parents who have been there. Seek after these connections. Look for children’s books that cover the particular situation your child is facing. There are plenty of resources out there to help you.
Finally, I encourage you to continually pray throughout this difficult situation. Remember that God is mighty and he will prevail in every situation. This is not an exhaustive list, but a great starting point for breaking bad news with child(ren).