How To Explain Tough News To Your Child

Trying to explain tough news to your child can make any parent hesitate. If you need a few tips, check out this easy guide!

by Troop Atomic Mommy

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Discussing difficult and emotional topics with children can make any parent hesitate, especially because most parents wish to give our children the longest, happiest and most secure childhood we can.

Yet of course, this is an important part of helping them to develop into emotionally mature and well-adjusted individuals. From dealing with the loss of a loved one to explaining sensitive social issues, these conversations can be difficult for everyone involved, and sometimes there’s just no perfect way to get the message across. However, with patience, empathy, and a few worthwhile steps, it is possible to have meaningful conversations about even the harshest topics.

girl with backpack smiling while looking at mom
Photo by Tiger Lily on

Understand Your Child’s Current Needs

Before embarking on a difficult conversation with a child, it is important to understand how mature they are and their individual needs. A conversation with your nine-year-old will look much different to a conversation with your five-year-old, and that’s because different age groups have varying levels of understanding and emotional maturity, and what may be appropriate for one child may not be for another. 

For instance, young children may need simple, concrete explanations, while older children may be able to handle more complex and nuanced discussions, and may even ask you more thoughtful questions in response. Additionally, every child is unique, and it is important to take into account their individual personality, interests, and emotional needs when approaching difficult topics. Keep in mind that it’s good to be clear, but also emotionally sensitive about a topic. Sometimes, not all the details are required, just the basic outline.

Choose The Right Time

Timing and setting are fundamental to get right when discussing emotionally tough topics with children. It is best to choose a time when the child is calm and relaxed, and when there is enough time to have a thorough and meaningful conversation with them. 

Avoid having these discussions in public or when the child is distracted, as this can make it difficult for them to fully engage and understand the topic at hand. Additionally, consider the child’s emotional state and whether they are going through a particularly stressful or difficult time, as this may impact their ability to process and understand what is being discussed. The same goes for you – as if you feel emotional or frustrated, that might carry across, and that energy will be present. For instance, you might be frustrated that someone you know has been arrested and after using Mr Nice Guy Bail Bonds, you might wait a few hours before letting your child know what happened to their loved one.

Honesty Is Important, But You Can Present It Correctly

Honesty is key when discussing difficult topics with children – because they tend to be very good at seeing through obvious deception. In fact, children are often more perceptive than we give them credit for, and it is important to be transparent and avoid overdoing it. They know there’s a reason you’re having a tough conversation and taking time out for it, so they’ll expect bad news or a serious topic to come up, even if they can’t quite articulate that consciously.

To some degree, you can leave out more intimate details and make difficult subjects less intensive than they are. For instance, if you wanted to discuss why someone at school seemed to be dismissive of their ethnic heritage, you can talk about racism and how this has expressed itself through the years, but also use this as a counterpoint to showcase how things have improved, and how what that person told them was unacceptable, as well as what to do about it next time.

Sit With Them & Support Them

Parents can sometimes worry about using the perfect combination of words to make their feelings known, but the truth is that might not exist. A child may get upset, feel bad, and ask you questions, or even lose their temper, and that’s understandable. The best thing you can do is sit with them, be careful and gentle, and empathetic. Stay with them and help them process their emotions.

This will help them healthily think through and accept or at least understand the reality of the topic presented. They will look to you for support, and it’s important to be strong for them in that way. This, arguably, is more important than any framing or other “perfect” approach you could have taken, which doesn’t really exist.

The Takeaway

Discussing difficult and emotional topics with children can make any parent hesitate, but it doesn’t have to be if you follow any or all of the tips we’ve shared in this guide. Remember to communicate in an age-appropriate manner, and don’t overshare details that would be scary. Always offer comfort and give them room to grieve the news in their own way. And if the tough news is still too much, you can also opt to give your child the option of therapy.

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