In an article written by Dr Bill Webster, he gives ten guidelines for breaking bad news to children. These guidelines include:
- Wait until you have the complete story: Sometimes kids have a tendency to fill in the blanks with their imagination that paints a much darker picture than the reality. Giving them the whole story is the best way to present the bad news. However, waiting too long to tell them the bad news can be detrimental as well, so be careful.
- Faith and Fibs: Try to avoid making up facts or sharing things that you hope are facts and don’t fabricate the truth. Dr Webster talks about a lady who tried to comfort her daughter after her cat died by telling her that God wanted another cat in heaven to which the girl wondered why God would want a dead cat. Maybe it would have been better to say that the cat was sick and died so that it wouldn’t hurt anymore. Be careful after the death of a pet by trying to replace wat was lost…a child may be confused about how to respond to a new pet while grieving for the pet that died. Also, be careful about clichés like “grandma went to a better place” because children may wonder what they did to make this place so miserable that grandma felt she would be better off someplace else.
- Use Age Appropriate Language: You would use different language telling a four year old the same news that you would tell a ten year old because using terms they don’t understand would leave them confused. Use simple terms and clear explanations. For a child up to five years old, make them feel safe by holding them on your lap or talk to them on their bed…their safe places. Try to be calm and roll with their reactions. Many young children really can’t grasp the realities of death or divorce. If you say that Mommy is gone, they will think that she is gone but she’ll be back. And so their reactions may be more like “okay…can we go to the park and play”?
More next week,