Talking to Your Children About Difficult Situations

As adults, we all handle difficult or upsetting situations differently. It’s the same with children. Changes in their lives can be unsettling, but they will typically take their cues on how to react from us so it’s important to be aware of what we might be communicating nonverbally. If a situation is challenging for you as an adult to understand, it can be even more complicated and scary for a child. For example, I remember how difficult it was to explain the terrible events of 9/11 to children.

Here are a few general suggestions on how to respond to your child if he or she asks questions about a difficult situation:

Gage your comfort level. As a parent, you need to decide what you feel comfortable having your children know. If a topic is one that is beyond their ability to understand, be careful what you say about it in front of them. They are always listening even when it might appear that they aren’t. This includes what they see on the news, hear on the radio, or learn from others. Children are often very sensitive to our moods as parents so it’s important to be aware of what we might be telling our children, even if we aren’t using words.

Keep it simple and honest. Provide accurate, honest, and age appropriate information to children. Use simple and honest words.

  • Let children’s questions guide your discussions. Guard against giving information that goes beyond what they are asking. When children ask questions, they usually want to know something specific. As parents, we often want to provide full explanations to every question they ask, but our answers can become more complicated than they need to be. With a sensitive subject, it’s best to only answer what is asked. You may want to clarify their questions to make sure you know what they want to know. For example, you may ask what it is that they want to know about the given topic.
  • Be straight with children so they know that they can count on you. Being specific or succinct in your answers is not dodging the issue, but be sure you don’t ignore their questions. Your willingness to respond will increase their sense of security, which is always important, but even more vital if they experience a loss of some kind.
  • It’s sometimes necessary to answer children’s questions over and over again. They are not trying to be difficult; it may be they don’t like your answer or that it’s just a difficult concept for them to grasp.

Make sure you’re educated on the topic at hand. To effectively answer your child’s questions, it’s important to be informed yourself. But if your child stumps you, try to find an answer together! HealthyChildren.org offers advice on helping your children deal with an array of topics that may impact their emotional wellness.

It’s never easy to talk to your children about difficult situations, but by keeping the lines of communication open at an early age, you’ll encourage open dialogue for years to come!