As parents, we may feel the desire to protect our children from negativity and things that may be hard, scary or upsetting for them. Unfortunately, there are a lot of hard things in life that children will be exposed to. Whether it's the death of someone they know, a loved one experiencing illness, parents going through separation or divorce, or even conflict with their friends. It can be difficult to to know how or when to discuss these things with our children. Below, we share with you ideas on how a difficult conversation might sound:
Start the conversation "Come and sit with me, I need to talk to you about something important. Grandma had to go to the hospital last night. The doctors tried to help, but she was very sick. She died this morning. This means we won't see her again."
Encourage them to ask questions “Did you have any questions you want to ask me?" or "I'm here if you have any questions."
Identify emotions "You seem sad. It’s ok to cry. This is a very sad thing. I am right here with you."
Give age appropriate information "Grandma was very sick. She had cancer. Cancer is not contagious. Nobody else in our family is sick."
Reassure them "If you ever have any other questions or want to talk more about this, I’m here for you.” or "Grandma loved you very much" or "I know this is very sad. I want you to know you are safe and healthy. I love you so much and I am here for you."
It's important to remember that having difficult conversations with a 3 year old will look and sound different to discussing the same thing with a 10 year old. On top of this, children all have very different personalities, so their responses will vary. Your child might have trouble processing the information, become upset, ask you lots of questions, or they may not seem phased. No matter their age or response, children need to feel safe, healthy and loved, so it is important to reassure them of that.
There is no such thing as the "perfect time" to have a difficult conversation, you just have to take the first step and start the discussion. Listen to their concerns, validate their feelings, and respond to their needs.