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
Bullying in schools has become a nationwide concern, with many anti-bullying practices being implemented in every state. Social and emotional learning (SEL) can provide an effective foundation for reducing bullying in schools. Practicing SEL skills will create a school environment that fosters positive interactions. Here are four characteristics of SEL, that aim to curb bullying in schools:
1. Open, supportive relationships between students and teachers.
Opencommunication between students and teachers presents an opportunity for students to learn positive conflict resolution techniques. These techniques allow students to resolve problems before they escalate into fully fledged bullying.
2. Solid communication between schools and families.
Families need to be involved with their child’s school. When a parent is actively engaged in what happens to their child at school on a daily basis, they can help teach positive behaviour and reinforce messages from the teachers. Working as a team with the child’s school, ensures that the same positive messages are being taught on a variety of levels and in a variety of environments.
3. Emphasis on respect and tolerance.
SEL requires school policies that highlight respect for peers, acceptance and appreciation of everyone’s differences. A school community in which students understand and embrace differences is a place where positive behaviour will thrive.
4. Teaching skills that allow kids to recognise and handle emotions, and engage in caring peer relationships.
In addition to school policies requiring respect and tolerance, students must be taught how to engage in positive social interactions and develop caring peer relationships with one another. Teaching students how to express and handle emotions positively will support responsible decision-making and avoid negative scenarios that could escalate into bullying.
SEL skills arm students with the ability to handle their emotions in a positive way that results in enhanced social problem solving, supportive attitudes toward others, and overall academic success. Social and emotional learning provides students with many benefits that enhance the school community as a whole, creating a caring and nurturing environment in which bullying has no place.
Quirky Kid has also recently published a comprehensive SEL program called The Best of Friends. Find out more about it online. Equip your child with some of our therapeutic resources such as the Quirky Kid ‘Face It’ cards, which are designed to increase emotional awareness. Most importantly, please feel free to contact us to learn more about the benefits of social and emotional learning.
Engaging in adult conversation, for many parents, is a rare opportunity. With busy schedules, tag-team parenting and children in need of attention, brief connections with other parents and even your own partner, are often few and far between. Given the infrequency of such events, it is not surprising most parents are angered when children interrupt…on purpose…all the time!
Young children and patience
For children under the age of 8 years, the importance of patience is a difficult skill to acquire. Young children are impulsive by nature and being told to “wait a minute” is likely to be lost when parents are engaged in a frantic flow of words. Managing interruptions in a calm manner, requires planning and practice, to avoid a potentially positive exchange from going pear-shaped.
Helping children manage interruption
Interrupting, may take the form of ‘talking over others’,‘creating a loud distraction’ or physically pulling on a person to gain attention. Let’s face it, many adults do all these things to toddlers to encourage them to move on from one activity to the next, so it’s not surprising children try the same antics as they mature. Interestingly, however, the majority of school-aged students resist the urge to interrupt their teacher, while at home most children have no qualms about interrupting their parents. Based on stories generously shared by clients in the clinic, I know interruptions tends to peak when one parent returns home from work and everybody wants to talk at once. Unfortunately, children tend to bare the brunt of the blame, when parents are tired and decent communication seems like a thing of the past.
One of the best ways to help children aged 2-6 years learn to avoid “interrupting” is to give them some tools to manage it.
Firstly, set the scene. Help your child imagine where the interruption may take place and then role play some suggestions. For example, suggest your child holds your hand when they have something to say and squeeze their hand in return, to acknowledge their request. Alternatively, the child’s signal could be to place their hand on the parent’s knee, if the parent is seated, and in response the parent places their hand on top, as a silent gesture of recognition. These techniques are best applied in a social setting, when subtle signs are more easily recognised. Special signals between parent and child strengthen the relationship and far outweigh an angry exchange, eg; “DON’T INTERRUPT!” in the company of friends, which typically terminates the conversation anyway.
In the home setting, the whole family may wish to be involved in a role play where interruptions are rife. However, the role play should be conducted on a weekend when there is sufficient time to test out everybody’s ideas. Switching roles, whereby a parent plays the role of child, and vice versa, will help both parties see the situation from a different point of view. Giving the issue of interrupting a solid focus in the presence of all family members, doesn’t need to involve a stern warning. A role play will inject some humour into a situation and laughter will lubricate discussion around a sensitive family issue. Consider pausing mid-role play to ask for suggestions about how to fix the issue. Be open to ideas.
There are many ways to create change. Consider having more brief conversations, rather than one long discussion with the same person. Use a timer to set limits on one-to-one adult conversation and graph your child’s improvements in the ‘patience department’.
A visual graph on the fridge may be a source of pride for children and a reminder of progress. Imagine the difference when interrupting occurs every 3 minutes as opposed to every 3 seconds. Verbal praise after a successful social interaction should also be part of the equation, both at home and in the community.
Luckily the ‘interrupting phase’ for children is typically short-lived. As children mature and early adolescence emerges, conversations with peers far outweigh any desire to interrupt adult exchanges. Parents are more likely to find themselves interrupting long phone calls between adolescent girls or cutting short late night social exchanges on Skype. In these circumstances, remember the time it took you to teach your children the rules of patience and respect…and remember to employ these social skills in return.
Think: silent signal, recognition in return and a pre-planned time frame to wind up the conversation.QK
Great news for our mobile users! Now the Quirky Kid website is responsive and mobile friendly. Over the last 12 months the number of mobile users visiting our site has increased. More and more parents were starting to look for parenting tips and read our articles using their mobile devices.
The process to make this theme responsive was not that simple and took some focus and diligence from us since we have a large database. The down time was minimum and we have ensured nearly no disruption to our visitors
We took the change to update our home page to make it easier to see our most recent content, register for our workshops and programs and book appointments with our team.
The widget section (or the side bar) of the site has also received some attention and we have added more elements like a search box. You can find the search box at the very end of the the widget section on most pages.
Let us know what you think about your experience navigating our website.
Social skills is a common concern among parents. Often children can have difficulties in making and keeping friends. They may be left out of games at lunch, not get invited to other children’s houses or may even be teased by some children.
An important aspect of maintaining friendships is social skills.
Social skills are specific behaviours such as smiling, making eye contact, asking and responding to questions, and giving and acknowledging compliments during a social exchange. These behaviours result in positive social interactions and have been linked to positive developmental outcomes, including peer acceptance.
How can I tell if my child is having difficulties with social skills?
Little use of eye contact,
Uninterested in social interactions,
Difficulties initiating social interactions,
Difficulties interpreting verbal and non-verbal social cues,
Inappropriate emotional response,
Lack of empathy towards others.
It can be upsetting for parents to realise that their children are having difficulties making friends. Research has shown however, that social skills can be effectively taught to children.
How to encourage your child to develop social skills
Help your child make friends by organising play dates, having sleepover and joining clubs.
Offer suggestions on ways to handle situations at school and with friends.
Children learn a lot by observing how adults interact so it is important to always model appropriate behaviour, such as greeting shop assistants and using Peoples names when possible.
Help your child to understand different points of view by describing feelings and having conversations about how other people might feel. This can help your child to develop empathy and will help them deal with conflict when it occurs.
Help develop conversation skills such as asking questions and listening to others
Discuss behaviours such as teasing and bullying with your child, to help them understand that some comments could upset others.
How can the Quirky Kid Clinic help your child?
The Quirky Kid Clinic is a unique place for children and adolescents aged 2-18 years. We work from the child’s perspective to help them find their own solutions. Additionally, we offer a variety of resources, workshops and individualized consultations to support children experiencing difficulties with social skills.
The Best of Friends Workshop TMis an innovative social skills and communicationprogram for children aged 3 to 13. This activity-based workshop encourages children to make the most of their friendships by developing good communication skills. Workshops are available throughout t the year both in school and clinic setting.
How to be a Friend Book – This book published by Quirky Kid helps children to understand how friendships are formed and the best way to handle conflict. It is a must for all children and proactive parents.
Face it Cards are a set of 35 hand-draw facial expression cards. The cards give greater meaning to discussions involving feelings and behaviors. They can help families resolve conflict and classmates explore social scenarios or ethical dilemmas and also allow children to ‘pointing out’ their emotions, helping then to increase understanding, problem-solving and empathy when dialogue is difficult.
Tell Me a Story Cardsare a useful tool for parents and professionals working with young people. They invite children to recall and retell their own memorable moments of extremity, this facilitates communication, highlights strengths, and boosts self-esteem.
Information for this fact sheet was taken from an interview with Child Psychologist Kimberley O’Brien, the Raising Children Network website, and the following articles and was compiled by Corina Vogler, Interm-Psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic
Reference: Tse, J., Strulovitch, J., Tagalakis, V., Meng, L., & Fombonne, E. (2007). Social skills training for adolescents with asperger syndrome and high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1960-1968.
Rao, P., Beidel, D., & Murray, M. (2008). Social skills training for children with Aspergers’s syndrome or high-functioning autism: a review and recommendations. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38, 353-361.