Talking With Our Children About Bad News

Talking With Our Children About Bad News

With all the bad stuff going on that even our youngest children are privy to, we as parents must be able to speak to them about it.  Because the alternative of not talking to them can only foster fantasies in their minds that may be incorrect or worse than the reality.   Sometimes we think, “better not to bring it up if they don’t.”   But we know that kids have the tallest antennae and quickly know and sense everything, certainly the emotionally laden events.

First and foremost we must be aware of our own upset and sadness.  And we must be aware of any discomfort we might have in discussing negative issues with our kids.  We naturally don’t like to see our kids upset and want to protect them from those icky negative feelings.  But not talking about the uncomfortable can only further squelch it and push it down where in turn it can ooze out in other unacceptable ways.

Our kids take their emotional cues from us.  How do we cope and handle our difficult feelings?  What do we do?  Live like your kids are watching… because they are.”   (Susan Stiffelman)

5 ways to talk about the uncomfortable:

  • Find out what they know about the situation.  Bring it up gently and ask them what they’ve heard.
  • Be honest.   Explain the facts in an age-appropriate manner.  Being brief and simple is best.  They will ask further if they want more information.  We take our cues from them in terms of how much info to give.  Less is more; the conversation can be revisited many times.  They need time to digest and process the information.  Too much is overwhelming and cannot be taken in.
  • Acknowledge feelings.  Accept all their emotions – even the difficult ones of rage and extreme sadness.  All feelings are O.K. but not all behaviors are.  We put limits on unacceptable actions but not on the expression of feelings.  They need to know that we are open to hearing their painful emotions and that it’s acceptable for them to feel their tough feelings.  In other words, we must give them permission to feel and to verbally express their feelings. 

As we know, when we are able to express our feelings we feel lighter.  It naturally doesn’t solve the problems but it’s a huge start in being able to move on and begin to look at ways of improving things or at the action steps we can then take.  Otherwise we get weighted down and stuck in the heaviness of our unexpressed emotions. 

  • Creative outlets.  Some children may need activities to help them express their feelings and thoughts.  Drawing, writing, imaginative play, are all ways of expression.  Reading books together about the specific difficult situation can encourage lots of good discussion.
  • The unanswerable questions are O.K.   “What a great question.  I don’t know the answer,” is a perfectly fine response to a child.  Some of these may be those existential questions which we know are the perennial life-long struggling issues.  This in-and-of itself is a wonderful teachable moment.  Not all questions have definitive answers and we as parents are not all knowing.   We can suggest searching together for some answers.  “What do you think” is always a great opener to getting them to think, feel and put forth their ideas and opinions.


This is just a beginning, but a crucial one.  When people can talk and feel understood, their sense of connection is enhanced.

The opposite, isolation, can cause those scariest of feelings to grow like a time bomb until they explode.   And we’ve certainly all seen the explosion of those sometimes quiet and all-times suffering individuals who eventually express their rage in the most unacceptable way humanly possible.

To empower kids and to redirect them towards the greater good, which we know is still the predominant theme to humankind (although it often doesn’t seem like that), let’s heed what the mother of Mr. Rogers told him:  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’”  Mister Rogers


Thank you for stopping by.  I’d love to hear from you – what are your suggestions for talking to our kids about those difficult times in our lives? 

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