How to Break Bad News to Your Child?


We go through difficult events in our lives and some circumstances force us to tell our children about them; what is the best way to break bad news to our children? The conversation will not be easy, but the key is using language that is suitable to their age. Before we begin with the steps, you must be the first to convey to your child the bad news. If you ignore or postpone discussing the issue with your child, or if you try to hide it, this may lead the child to exaggerate the matter, causing you to lose control.

Bad news may have a huge psychological impact on children; this is because their psychological, social, and cognitive maturity is incomplete, so their response to this news may vary. The impact of bad news on children may take days or weeks to manifest; among the most serious manifestations children may suffer:

  • The child finds difficulty in sleeping and can suffer from intense fear and nightmares, as they may imagine frightening images about the bad news they received.
  • A child may experience a lack of self-confidence and they can be overly attached to their parents due to anxiety, fear, and insecurity.
  • Poor concentration and constant mental distraction, both of which negatively affect academic achievement.
  • Severe psychological disorders such as stuttering.
  • Some children may suffer from urinary incontinence or bed-wetting.
  • Refusing to follow directions and the child becomes more stubborn.
  • In some cases, long-term psychological effects lead to depression, which requires psychiatric treatment.

All these issues are considered a natural response to receiving bad news; to avoid these risks, you must search for an appropriate way to break down bad news to your child. There are several ways; yet, which is best? What are the basic steps to prepare children psychologically and consider their feelings?

Here is the answer in the following steps:

  • First, think about what you want to say; there is no harm in practicing with yourself how you will conduct a discussion with the child. Try to control your emotions, as it is difficult to tell them bad news while you are in an unstable psychological state.
  • Pick the appropriate time when the child is attentive; avoid times when they are tired or when it is time to sleep—do not expect a proper response at those times.
  • Conduct discussions with your child to know to what extent they know about the matter; ask in different ways and listen to them.
  • Share your feelings with your child; it would be an incentive for your child to know that you are experiencing the same feelings of fear and anxiety. However, not to the extent of destabilizing or distracting them; your reactions provide them the opportunity to discover how emotions affect people and how we control them when facing sad news.
  • Be honest and tell the truth in a way they can understand; if you want to convey the news of the death of a close person or the death of your child's favorite pet, you must use words that your child understands. You can tell them that death means that the person no longer feels anything, they are not hungry or thirsty, they are not afraid or in pain. We will never see them again, but we will keep our memories with them in our hearts and we will always remember them.
  • Differentiate between the amount of information you convey to children and teenagers. Children, in general, tend to fill in the blanks from their imagination, which negatively affects comprehension of the matter, so be clear and specific, and do not prolong the conversation.
  • Be prepared to answer all their questions with all possible answers including "I do not know".
  • Provide support by reassuring them; do not leave your child to think and conclude on their own. Let them share their thoughts and feelings after learning the bad news. The first thing a child thinks after being told bad news is "How will this affect me?". Using sentences like "I am here by your side", "I am here to help you get through this", "you are not alone", and "I will be by your side until you feel better", will support them.

Finally, these steps can help you guide your child through the crisis, but if at any time, you feel that you are stuck or that your child is constantly showing abnormal emotions, you should seek help from a specialist or psychotherapist.


Cover image by Freepik

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