Heaven knows that my family has dealt with their fair share of hard topics and my children have attended more funerals and dealt with more serious illness then most at this point in their short lives. As parents it is difficult for us to really talk to our kids sometimes through grief and morning and tough life situations, so when I was contacted to share this guest post with you by Victoria Candlan, I was more then willing. Please read on and educate yourself on how to really address those tough topics with your children.
Talking to your kids about hard topics can be awkward and
even scary at times. How do you address your divorce, or your sister’s serious
illness, or your recent bankruptcy in a way that they will understand? How do
you deal with their emotions and questions afterward?
Here are some tips for approaching those tough subjects in
an appropriate manner for each age group.
Little Kids (3-8): Don’t leave your young child in the dark with the intent of
trying to protect him. He will feel the sadness weighing on the home and notice
the loved one in bed or going to doctor’s appointments. By telling him what’s
going on you allow him to work through his own feelings, feel able to help in
his own way, feel included rather than isolated, and feel safe asking
questions. Share pertinent information like the name of the illness, whether
it’s contagious, and changes that may be made to the child’s environment, but
avoid going into too much detail.
Tweens (9-12): Tweens tend to be the most sensitive out of all the stages
of youth. Prepare your tween in advance for hospital visits. Tell him what he
will see, what will happen there, and what type of mood the loved one might be
in (sleepy, confused, irritable). Teens (13-18): Your teen is able to understand difficult topics more and
needs direct information. Tell him how the diagnosis and treatment of the
illness will affect his own life. Will there be new financial burdens put upon
the family? Will he have to forgo certain activities because of a lack of funds
or transportation? Will he have more responsibilities around the house?
Initiate this discussion in a clear way to help him relieve stress.
Little Kids (3-8): Your child is aware of death earlier than you realize. By
talking to her about it, you may discover what she knows and what some of her
misconceptions, fears, and worries are. She might expect you to be all-knowing,
even about death. Tell her that you don’t have all the answers, but provide her
with the needed information with understanding and comfort. Encourage her to
talk about the death so she can sort through her feelings. If you believe in an
afterlife, express to her your beliefs about where the deceased person is now.
Tweens and Teens (9-18): The period from 9 to 13 is when kids begin to have a firmer
grasp on death and its finality. If it’s an unexpected death or a death of a
close loved one, your teen or tween might go through the stages of grief
including denial, anger, sadness, and acceptance. Let him know he is allowed to
cry as much and as often as he needs. Don’t tell him how to feel, rather simply
say, “I am here for you.” Talk to both your tween and teen as if they are
adults and be truthful about the facts.
Little Kids (3-8): You can provide your child with a simple reason as to why
you and your spouse are getting a divorce such as “Mom and Dad don’t get along
anymore.” Make sure to show restraint of emotions and respect for your spouse
at this time. Address the changes in living situation immediately so she is
prepared. She may be confused as to what divorce entails, so be patient for a
Tweens (9-12): It is essential to tell your tween “I love you” when
breaking the news of the divorce. Be understanding of her sensitive emotions
and reassure her that the divorce is not her fault. To promote her feelings of
security while talking about the logistics of the divorce, say “live with”
rather than “stay with”. This way she will feel that she is still living with
both of her parents, just at separate times.
Teens (13-18): You need to tell your teen the truth, yet leave out all of
the bitter details. She needs the truth at this time more than any other stage.
Chances are, she is already aware that your marriage is crumbling. Your teen
may be angry and hurt, so acknowledge her feelings and let her express them
Bankruptcy Little Kids (3-8): Overhearing conversations or getting second hand
information from others is worse for your child than telling him directly.
However, hold the anxious conversations about your bankruptcy until after the
kids are asleep or when you are away from home. Show him that saving money can
be fun—have him participate in coupon cutting and free fun activities like
hiking or playing at the park. Children at this stage adapt well to new
circumstances, so he should adapt well to a different, more cost-friendly style
of living. Tweens (9-12): Tweens will have a better idea about the family financial
situation than little kids. He may start comparing his clothes, house, and cars
to that of his peers and let peer pressure set in. Let him know it’s okay to
feel disappointed that he doesn’t have the latest and greatest. Since the
recession has affected a lot of people, talk to him about others who are
struggling financially so he knows your family isn’t alone.
Teens (13-18): Teens can be involved in some of the solutions and decision
making, although he shouldn’t be included in every discussion. Invite him to
help decide what places to cut back on in the budget. He may feel stressed at
the possibility of not being able to do sports or fear that college is no
longer an option. Help him prioritize and find a solution like making his own
money or applying for a scholarship. There are great resources for talking to
your kids about bankruptcy like this article.
Talking to your kids about difficult matters is hard, but
avoiding them is even harder. Using these key tactics, you will be able to talk
to your children about sensitive issues with compassion and understanding.