Community News: March, 2016-2017

Handling Difficult Conversations

By Melanie Salonen, NSC Parent Educator and PCI Certified Parent Coach ®

It is never easy to deliver difficult news to a child. Whether it be about divorce or the passing of a family member, it can be hard to face our child when our own emotions are raw and close to the surface. While difficult news can cover a wide variety of topics, there are some basic tips that are good to keep in mind regardless of the news we must share. Most importantly, we want to convey the important message that we are our child's "go-to" person! We want them to know that they can come to us, even when the conversation is hard. It takes great courage to be a parent and build this important foundation, especially when you also may be hurting.

Important things to consider when delivering difficult news:

Be mindful of your body language: Remember, a large percentage of information is given through our bodies. Practice with a friend or partner if you need to before you speak to your child.

If you have a partner, it can help to tell children difficult news together: This is especially important for parents that are divorcing. As much as you can, agree beforehand what words you will use for your explanation.

Slow down, keep it simple and start with a question: Try, "What have you heard?" or "What do you know about...?" Younger children need less de- tail and will do better with a simple explanation. When under stress, it can be natural to "over talk" a situation. Give them one or two pieces of information then wait to see what questions might come up.

You may hear lots of personal, logistical questions: Depending on age, children will often be very concerned about how they will be affected. It can sound callous, but it reflects their fears. Help them see what will change and what will stay the same.

Use books to help broach a subject: There are books on just about any subject matter. Books can help kick-start a healthy discussion.

Speak the truth: While not easy, it is always good to try to tell the truth.

Let your child lead the conversation: Be aware of information overload, and giving your child more than they are ready for. If your child hears the information and then is ready to go off and play, allow them to do so. No need to follow them, giving more information. Children need time to process.

You don't usually have the conversation only once: Because kids take time to process, questions can come up at any time... for a long time. As kids enter new developmental understandings, they may once again need to process from a new perspective.

Kids need to hear "I love you" more than ever: Kids never can hear this too much!

It is okay to share that you are also sad: Children are astute at reading our unspoken messages. We can share that we also think something doesn't feel fair, or that we are disappointed, or even that we don't have all the answers.

Expect regression and clinginess, or sometimes no change in behavior: Kids don't always need to talk about it to process and heal. But it can be good to check in regularly and let them know you are there if they have any questions.

Validate feelings: Let kids vent and know all feelings are okay. It is perfectly fine to feel sad, angry, or even to feel happy, relieved or excited about the future. There is no shame in our feelings…they simply are what they are.

Talk about ways to self-soothe: Once their feelings are acknowledged, help move them to center again (if appropriate) by asking, "What do you think might help you feel better right now?" Some children find comfort in doing something active to process feelings, like music, drawing or writing a letter.

Keep routines as normal as possible: Children find comfort in routines and the familiar. They may prefer to go to school and be with their friends, depending on their age. Again, this is not callous. It is simply how they need to process.

Be mindful of what you say in front of your child or "Interviewing for Pain:" Children are listening closely and comments can be taken out of context. Be mindful of your adult conversations with friends and partners while children are present. "Interviewing for Pain" involves continually bombarding kids with questions about how they are feeling or how things are going. It's okay to give kids a chance to process and take a break from the news.

Be careful about screens: If the difficult news involves your community or a world-wide event, be mindful of not leaving the television on, where tragedy is sensationalized and continually analyzed. Also be mindful of not continually checking your phone or computer. Be as present as you can.

Be sure to let them know that together you will make it through: Kids need to know you have hope for the future.

Take care of yourself: This is self-explanatory, but easy to forget! During stressful times, be sure to take a few moments out of the day to breathe, meditate or go for a walk. You will be modeling important self-care to your children.

If there is concern, be sure to seek the advice of a therapist: This can't be stressed enough. There are wonderful, helping people out there who can walk you through a difficult time in your life. It is perfectly fine to model that you and your family could use some support during a vulnerable time.

The PAC Newsletter

The PAC Newsletter is produced by parents working in the PAC Communication Committee. The aim of the newsletter is to help co-ops communicate among themselves, inform families about important dates, ideas, related classes and seminars, Cooperative Preschool solutions and techniques from other preschools. It also advertises teacher openings, and fundraising activities.

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