Prepare yourself if you need a difficult talk with your child

It’s never easy to start a difficult conversation with a child. Often, both parties can find it awkward to sit and talk about something serious, sometimes because we haven’t processed it properly ourselves. Children also tend to ask strings of questions, and the anxiety about being unable to answer them can be nerve-wracking.

Monday, 27th January 2020, 5:00 pm
When discussing anything serious it’s important to find somewhere quiet to sit with no interruptions or distractions.

However, the alternative is that children and young people don’t feel like they can talk to a trusted adult about what’s on their mind, especially if it’s a difficult topic. This can lead to a child feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and worries.

One difficult topic children face is the seemingly constant deluge of news that they are subjected to. News is everywhere; TV, radio and online, and children often can’t escape it. When these stories are frightening, they can have a negative effect on a young person. One girl recently told Childline:

“I hate the news, it scares me. Only a few days into 2020 and WWIII [World War Three] is trending online. Why can't the world just be peaceful? My anxiety is spiking thinking about all the ‘what ifs’”

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When children say that they are scared about something like this, especially when it’s something you can’t ‘fix’, it can be tough. What you can always do is reassure and support – starting with a big hug.

Listen carefully to what they have to say and if you don't understand anything be honest and ask them to explain. Above all, let them say everything they want to say before you give any opinions or advice.

Unfortunately, things do happen closer to home that can turn young lives upside down. Separation, illness and death have a huge effect, and talking about them needs to be treated very carefully. You should also be ready for things to get very emotional and perhaps distressing too.

If a family member or friend is ill or has passed away, you might have to balance coping with it yourself and helping a child cope, too. One girl told Childline:

“In April this year my mum was pregnant, everything was fine...until it wasn’t. Mum had a stillborn baby girl, my little sister.”

When the time comes to break the news, remember to explain everything slowly, in words that your child will easily understand. It's also very important to make sure they know that they're not responsible or to blame in any way for what you are telling them.

When discussing anything serious it’s important to find somewhere quiet to sit with no interruptions or distractions. Avoid things like using your phone, and give the child or young person your full attention.

Think about the sorts of questions your child's likely to ask you, so you can have the answers ready. Tailor your answers to the child’s age and understanding. For example, if a child asks what happens after death the butterfly analogy works well; A caterpillar goes into its cocoon not having any idea that it’s about to grow wings and emerge from its sleep as a beautiful butterfly. If you have children of different ages, it may be worth talking to them separately.

Having difficult conversations is hard, but if you handle it well it can bring you and your child closer together and help you to understand each other a bit more. So, put a little time and thought into the planning and it won't just help to resolve or explain an issue, it could make your relationship even better, too.

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