Answering the Trickiest QuestionsJob loss, divorce, disease — they're difficult topics to discuss with anyone, but with kids, special finesse is required. Here, the smart scripts to use
One of the prime directives of parenting is to protect kids from pain. Hence, bicycle helmets, the movie-rating system, and immunizations. But what about a different kind of discomfort — say, when they get wind of adult situations like divorce or a serious illness? It may be tempting to fib and spare children the harsh truth, but a) that's sidestepping honesty and b) you won't be equipping your kid to deal with the hard stuff in life. And c) once your little one is more of a midsize to large one, she's going to be too observant to be sheltered from reality. So how's a parent to proceed?
Consider this: "Unlike adults, children don't have a context to put disturbing information into. Well-meaning parents may give kids more info than they can deal with, causing insecurity and anxiety they'd intended to control," says Edward Hallowell, M.D., a psychiatrist in Sudbury, MA, and New York City and author of several books on parenting, including The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness. So you'll want to parcel out the info in appropriate, manageable chunks.
You have to acknowledge there's been a disturbance in their universe, but keep the flow of information to a trickle. "Kids need to know only what they need to know: what will change in their lives because of the situation and, more important, what won't change," says John Duffy, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. "You should discuss things differently with each child, based on his age and maturity and the situation itself."
So when your kid hears about something you wish he hadn't and comes to you asking for an explanation, give him the info he needs — and not a bit more.