Allied health professionals, such as psychologists, can undergo years of training and practical experience to build their communication skills to deliver difficult news sensitively. They quickly learn that, when it comes to delivering bad news to children, it is essential to be prepared.
Parents, however, may need to learn as they go. At some point, all parents will have to communicate difficult or unpleasant situations to their children. Whether it’s the death of a family pet, moving away, separation/divorce, or harder still, the passing of a loved one – children and parents will need help navigating their emotional responses and behaviours through these tough times.
Clearly, this is a daunting task for anyone as we may feel inadequate to handle such situations. Research and experience tell us that the key is to let children know you are available to answer all questions and to provide as much support as needed.
Here are some other top tips for delivering – and dealing with the aftermath – of delivering bad news to your children.
1# Be honest
Lay out the facts at a level that is developmentally suited to the age of the child. Younger children may need help to understand the implications of the bad news and what it means for them. For example, approaching the topic of death or loss may result in a conversation about what death really means. Use words they understand and avoid saying things in such a way that might leave children confused about what you’re really saying. Speak clearly.
For teenagers, it is particularly important not to “sugarcoat” or limit details of the information, as this is often perceived to be dishonest or patronising. A study of young adults revealed that if they viewed their parents to be hiding something, or later found out that the parents had not been entirely truthful, the response was negative.
2# Be prepared to answer their questions
Children want their questions answered.
In fact, a survey of young adults revealed those who had access to the information they wanted from their parents in times of crisis were much more satisfied than those who were told to ask “no questions.” It is essential to schedule a time when there is enough opportunity for children to react and to think about what they want to ask, and for you to have time to respond calmly.
Avoid having difficult conversations immediately before school or work as this may be met with stress and anxiety without the chance to address these feelings appropriately.
Additionally, be prepared for awkward or tricky questions and be ready to answer them if you can. If you can’t answer a particular question, it is okay to admit you don’t know, rather than over-complicate an explanation.
3# Respect their ability to cope with the news, and their right to hear it
Respecting children’s developmental stage and maturity is essential. No one likes to be talked down to. Children whose parents speak to them as ‘equals’ feel respected and trusted, and are likely to respond with more maturity in a problematic situation.
In a research study by Donovan, Thompson, LeFebvre, and Tollison (2017) early adult respondents who perceived that their parents discussed tough issues with them more as peers, reported higher ratings of disclosure quality and in turn, greater relational closeness following the disclosure.
4# Provide reassurance
It is an essential role of parents to provide comfort and reassurance to children in stressful or distressing times. Let them it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling (e.g. sadness, anger). Confirm that these emotions are entirely valid responses to the situation.
Reassure them that you will be available to answer any questions or talk about this situation again at any time. Reassure them that they are loved.
5# Model good self-care
Share how you feel. Experiencing difficult situations, as well as talking about it with others, can be exhausting. Taking care of your own emotional well-being is essential and being honest is part of it.
Besides, it is perfectly okay to let your kids see that you are sad, angry, upset, etc. This gives them a chance to see how emotions affect other people and to learn how to regulate them effectively.
Parents are emotional role models, especially in times of crisis, and your children will inevitably look to you to assess what is an appropriate response in these times. Be natural and talk about it.
6# Seek help for yourself and your child(ren) if needed
This all being said, it is essential to reach out for help when needed; both for yourself, and for your child.
Calling on your support network and sharing how you feel or what do you need, can help everyone to cope better.
Additionally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or the kids seem to be having an especially hard time coping, find a child psychologist who can work with your family. Child psychologists can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. You can contact the Quirky Kid.
Brott, A.(2014, September 29) 9 tips for breaking bad news to kids[Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/knowmore-tv/9-tips-for-breaking-bad-news-to-kids_b_5623488.html
Donovan, E. E., Thompson, C. M., LeFebvre, L., & Tollison, A. C. (2017). Emerging adult confidants’ judgments of parental openness: disclosure quality and post-disclosure relational closeness. Communication Monographs, 84(2), 179-199. doi:10.1080/03637751.2015.1119867
Levetown, M. (2008). Communicating With Children and Families: From Everyday Interactions to Skill in Conveying Distressing Information. Pediatrics, 121(5), e1441-e1460. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-0565
Livoti, N.(2013, June 30)Honesty and reassurance is key when talking to kids about bad news[Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.pennlive.com/bodyandmind/index.ssf/2013/06/honesty_and_reassurance_is_key.html
Marshall, L.B.(2016, July 8). How to break bad news to your teen. Retrieved from: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/business-career/communication/how-to-break-bad-news-to-your-teen
Working with children and their families is a very stimulating and rewarding experience. At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we embrace the uniqueness each child brings to our clinic and ensure all treatment and intervention is tailored to match the needs of each family. As clinicians, we use a wide variety of techniques and I’d like to share one with you.
The ‘All About Me’ Map
Engagement is a foundational and fundamental part of treatment. As clinicians we know how important it is to build engagement with a child before more formal therapeutic work begins. Research tells us that there is a significant positive relationship between the therapeutic alliance and treatment outcomes (Lambert & Barley, 2001).
My first session with a child is always about engagement, hearing all about them, the things they love, the important people in their life and the things they would like some help changing. Children often find it difficult to talk with a stranger in the first session and that is why we use our paper and textas to draw a special Map, all about them.
This activity typically provides enough space for children to be open and engaged, as children focus on drawing and writing, with no pressure to make eye contact with the clinician, who is positioned alongside the child and offers assistance with writing if the child requires.
How it’s done:
The Map typically starts with the child being asked to draw a circle in the middle of a big piece of butcher’s paper and then to write their name and age in the middle.
From there, the child can draw a map, full of mountains, oceans, or all the things they love or places they don’t love so much, with each used as a discussion point for the clinician. Remember to be curious! General areas that could be covered include things that the child enjoys, extracurricular activities, school, friendship connections and supports.
Some questions I ask to help children reflect upon what they enjoy (and to add to their map) include:
- If it were raining outside and you had to stay indoors all day, but you could choose to do anything you liked, what would you choose?
- If it were a mum day, what would you and mum choose to do together?
- Who do you hang out with in the playground, what do you do?
- Is there anything important that I haven’t asked you about that needs to go on your map?
After we have completed all the things that the child enjoys or things that are going well, we might draw some waves or special areas that the child chooses, to include the things that the child would like some help with.
Questions I ask around are:
- Are there things that you might worry about, what about at school, home, with others/friends?
- What sorts of things might make you feel angry?
- Do you ever feel sad? What about?
- If you lived in a perfect world, what sorts of things would have to change to make it perfect?
This activity is also helpful in assessing things from the child’s perspective, garnering the child’s level of insight, assessing whether the child’s goals align with the parental goals for treatment, allowing the child time to express the things they might be concerned with and offers hope to the child that you understand them and can support them.
Our Tell Me A Story Cards are a great addition to this activity.
This year Quirky Kid is a proud sponsor of the College of Educational & Developmental Psychologists 2017 Conference being held in Brisbane next month. This year theme is ‘live well, learn well… throughout life’. The conference brings together researchers and practitioners in the field of Educational and Developmental Psychology to reflect on the contribution of theory and research to practice.
The conference will feature presentations from renowned Australian and international experts on five conference streams:
- Early childhood and early intervention
- Mental health across the lifespan
The 2017 program includes an exciting combination of keynote addresses and presentations, networking opportunities and workshops.
The conference is open to all psychologists whether practitioners, educators, researchers or clinicians from all states and territories of Australia as well as interested international participants. Members are also keen to invite others interested in educational and developmental psychology to expand the depth and breadth of interaction around these extremely important professional skills and knowledge.
Conference attendees will get the opportunity to hear from high profile presenters and internationally recognised keynote speakers including:
- Professor David Kavanagh
- Dr Doug Shelton
- Dr Anne Chalfant
- Dr Caroline Bowen
- Dr Leander Mitchell
- Professor Bob Knight
- Dr Suzanne Vassallo
- Dr Annabel Battersby
Where you’ll find us:
Quirky Kid will have it’s very own display stand featuring all of our most popular programs and products such as The Best of Friends ®, Power Up! and many more! We will be around to talk to other conference attendees so come by and say hello!
Where and when:
Conference: Friday 7th of July, 2017
Venue: Rydges, Southbank
9 Glenelg St,
South Brisbane QLD 4101
Good News! The Quirky Kid Clinic is now a registered provider under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
About the NDIS
The NDIS is aimed at providing increased access to services for people living with disability. The funding scheme is designed to provide the right support according to each person’s needs and goals. It supports the delivery of specialised individual therapy, and individual assessment for early childhood intervention.
Eligible families can access services from a panel of Service Providers, like the Quirky Kid Clinic, to help cover the cost of early intervention. Please ask us about which psychologists you can see and the services you can access using your NDIS plan.
In NSW, the NDIS will be rolled out by district. When the NDIS commences in a district, people currently receiving supports through New South Wales Government specialist disability services will be moving first. Existing Commonwealth and state-based services and supports will continue until eligible people with a disability start their plans with the NDIS.
- To begin, if you have an agency or managed plan, please call our reception on + 02 9362 9297 (make sure to mention the NDIS) and we can organise an initial consultation with one of our psychologists, to formulate a plan moving forward.
- If you are not currently receiving disability supports you can apply to access the NDIS from the 1st of July 2018 (only those in urgent or exceptional circumstances). You may meet the access requirements up to six months prior to the NDIS phasing in your area. You can use the checklist on the NDIS website, to see if your child meets the NDIS rules.
For more information on how you can use your NDIS funding with the Quirky Kid Clinic, please call + 02 9362 9297 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org