Whether it's the death of a relative, the birds and the bees or a major illness in the family, discussing difficult issues with children is something many parents fear. It's natural to want to protect young minds from painful situations, but being evasive will hurt more than it helps. Dr. Phil offers tips for broaching sensitive subjects.
Don't be afraid that you're scaring your kids, but don't ask them to deal with adult issues either. Speak to them in age-appropriate language, and give them instructions about what to do.
Change the context of your talk. Sometimes driving down the street as you discuss a difficult subject makes it less ominous than having the same conversation on the living room couch. Make the environment of your chat disarming. Walk the dog with your child or play catch so he or she doesn't feel conspicuous.
If a parent has died, don't give the child details about the parent's death. He or she will use them to construct nightmarish fantasies about what has happened, and the child may view the world as a scary place. Use the right terminology. Don't say, "Mommy has gone to sleep." Explain, "Mommy has died," and introduce that concept to the youngster.
Don't try to protect the child by hiding your emotions. It's okay to acknowledge loss and to cry in front of a child over that loss.
Initiate the dialogue. Clarify what the child knows or has heard. Then, follow up by asking how he or she thinks and feels about this information.
Provide a safe place to fall. When tragedy strikes a family, children need to be assured that they will be protected. Maintaining rituals and structure, such as doing homework and getting to bed on time, can help restore a sense a normalcy.
Give information on a need-to-know basis.
Published on September 17, 2009