Tips for Breaking Bad News
As a parent, your natural instinct is to protect your child from painful experiences. But when something tragic occurs at home, close to home, or out in the world—a grandparent or pet dies, you lose your job or get a divorce, a school shooting occurs—shielding your child from the difficult emotions that accompany these life events is not what’s best for them. Are you and your child equipped to communicate effectively when disaster strikes?
Consider the following tips to help guide you through breaking bad news to your kids.
- First, try to distinguish your emotions about the news from your feelings about what to tell your kids. It’s always harder to talk about bad news when it’s an emotional issue for you.
- Be open to your kids’ reactions. Some may cry. Others may get angry. Some may not seem to react at all. Don’t read too much into your child’s initial reaction. For some kids, it takes awhile for the news to sink in.
- Give information according to your child’s age. Younger children will require less information than older teenagers. After sharing information, answer any questions your kids may have.
- Reassure your kids. When bad things happen, they need to hear that you love them and that you’re there for them. If you’re uncertain how long you can be there for your children (such as when you receive a terminal prognosis), make sure they know of other caring, trusted adults who will also be there for them.
- Talk about what the bad news means for them personally. Be as clear as possible about how the bad news will make their life change—or not change. Older kids will want to know more details about this than younger kids.
- Learn more about the bad-news topic. You can find helpful information about specific topics such as death, divorce, moving, and others from the American Academy of Pediatrics.