Whether it’s the death of a loved one, something difficult they saw in the news, or a big life change, we’ve gathered our top tips for talking to children about hard topics.
Find a quiet time and place, if possible.
You know your child best. If the conversation can wait a few hours, we suggest choosing a time when the child is well-fed and rested – perhaps after dinner. Choose a quiet time in a comfortable, familiar place. You want your child to feel safe to share their emotions – or retreat for privacy – and home is usually the best place for this.
Be honest and share what you can.
We recommend adults cater the details to the age of the child, of course, but it is best to be as honest as possible, without causing any unnecessary fear or sadness. Ask questions to find out what they know – often children hear and see more than we expect and we should be prepared to help them process this information. It’s best to tell a simple, age-appropriate version of the truth rather than shield children from uncomfortable information; they will likely find out eventually and it is better to learn about it from a trusted caregiver.
Explore thoughts and feelings.
Encourage your child to share their thoughts and feelings, and share yours in return. Without leaning on a child for support, it’s possible to share that you’re experiencing sadness or anger too – and that that these are normal emotions. Remind children that these negative emotions will come and go, and that even though they might be having big feelings right now, happy feelings will return. Be prepared to give children space if needed; sometimes a child needs time alone to process emotions. Leave room for that and make sure they know they can approach you to discuss further at a later time.
After a tough conversation, you might offer a little more flexibility and choice in the child’s routine. Would they like to snuggle after dinner on the couch? Do they want you to read them a book in bed? Give them simple choices and follow their lead so you can best support them in processing challenging and often new emotions.
Reassure and offer support.
No matter what the topic is, the goal is to help your child navigate their own hard feelings and to offer safety and support. Reassure the child that they are safe and their family is safe. Offer a hug and words of reassurance. Some children might require extra attention or appear clingy in the days following tough news; it can be tricky to find a balance between promoting independence and offering reassurance but it’s incredibly important that children see the caregiver as a safe and reliable person to go to during difficult times.
British American Household Staffing offers nanny consultant services to provide families with more confidence and knowledge in how to best support their children and to address any specific issues or questions. You can learn more about this service here.