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The Best Ways To Share Bad News With Children

Sharing bad news is almost never easy, no matter who you’re talking to, or what that news may be. Bad news comes in many forms, big and small — all the way from serious catastrophes to small hiccups. Regardless, bad news is bad news, and it should be regarded with sensitivity, especially when kids are in the picture. Children are still acclimating to the world and their experience in it, which means that bad news can cause shock and stress, especially when it’s more dramatic or upsetting in nature, or if this is their first time with something unsettling.

The Best Ways To Share Bad News With Children

Just like any topic you want to approach with the kids, bad news requires calm composure and sensitive communication. As long as you go at it with care and intention, you’ll be on the right path. If you need to break bad news to the kids, here are some of the most important things you’ll need to know going into it.

Make a Communication Plan

Communication is one of the most important keywords when it comes to raising kids, and for good reason. Whether times are good or rocky, communicating with your child and teaching them the skills for effective communication can foster healthy exchanges, even when the subject is less than ideal. Beyond encouraging communication, making a solid plan for where you want to direct your communication when you sit down with your child to discuss the news can make all the difference. If you tend to be nervous to share information or the specific news at hand has you a bit anxious, having a plan for what you want to say can help you break the news with intention. That way, you cover all your bases and can say what you need to say.

Be Age Appropriate

Speaking in an age appropriate way to your kids is always important, in all matters from bad news to big philosophical questions. If the topic is more mature — such as a loved one having passed away or something to do with finances — speaking to your child with mindfulness of their understanding will likely be your best bet. Don’t overwhelm young children with too much information, and don’t patronize your older children by withholding necessary information that could help aid their understanding. It’s a balancing act, but it’s important all the same.

Use the Seven C’s

No, we’re not talking about sailing the seven seas, instead, we’re talking about the system for talking to kids about tough subjects from the National Association for Children of Addition (NACoA). While these were designed to specifically apply to children of addiction or those close to addiction, they can apply to children in many other settings as well. The seven C’s to keep in mind are:

  • I didn’t cause it.
  • I cannot cure it.
  • I cannot control it.
  • I can care for myself.
  • …By communicating my feelings.
  • …Making healthy choices.
  • …Celebrating myself.

These points cover quite a lot of emotional ground, and when you’re mindful of including them in your conversation with your children, you can keep some of their feelings protected. Sometimes, kids feel like bad things that happen are their fault, or they feel to blame for events. By using these techniques, you can prevent those feelings.

Be Honest

Honesty is the best policy, especially with your children, when it comes to news that they need to know. This means that no matter how difficult it may be, you need to be honest with them about what is going on, no matter what it is. By modeling honesty, you can teach your children to be honest as well. You don’t need to be gratuitous or tell them information they may not need to know, but lying, putting it off or hiding things usually doesn’t bode well. When you get things all out in the open, you can move forward and allow everyone to process the new developments.

Encourage Questions and Communication

Sometimes with bad news, kids have a lot of feelings, questions and ideas. The best way to go about that is to talk with them and allow them to explore how they feel in their experience. Answer their questions to the best of your ability and give them the space they need to process difficult information. Most of all, understand that this may be an ongoing conversation that continues further, even after you initially sit down with them, and that’s totally okay.

How to Share Bad News With Children

Sharing bad news with anyone is hard, but it can be especially difficult to share bad news with your kids. Children are just learning to navigate their experience in the world, and that involves processing unpleasant events and information. When you approach the situation with love, compassion, care and honesty, things will go much smoother than you may have imagined. Like so many other things, it’s about communication. When you start there, you can open up a healthy discussion and navigate it together.


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