How to give your kids bad news

Jun 28, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Dealing with life's curve balls is taxing enough on you, but having to tell your children can be one of the hardest parts of parenting.

While helping your kids cope with a change in plans can be easy, dishing the news that there has been a death or disappointment can make you wonder: what is the right way to break it to your youngsters? So, before you risk thrusting your kiddos into an emotional tailspin, discover five tips on how to give your kids bad news.

Take some time for yourself

Before you even think of how to give your kids bad news, take some time for yourself to process the events at hand. Whether it's a death of a loved one or pet or the loss of a job and an impending move, be sure that you have given yourself enough time to deal by asking your spouse or a neighbor to look after your kids for a few hours so you can maintain your composure when speaking with your children.

Be honest

Instead of feeling like you have to sugar-coat bad news, opting for the truth can be the best strategy. "Being honest with kids is critical for parents to keep their credibility with kids of all ages as well as for teaching kids that life has less than happy moments," advises Jennifer Little, Ph.D., Parents Teach Kids. "Kids know when adults are lying or not telling them the truth, when they 'sugar-coat', distort or disguise truth, or just simply avoid certain topics." And, generalist mental health counselor Neven Lee Gibbs, Fr. SSG CAV (Ret) agrees. "Honesty is fine and saves trying to explain something difficult later in life."

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Keep it simple

Sometimes giving it to your children straight will not only help you avoid giving your kids more info than they asked for, but make it easier for them to process. "Adults need to state the news as facts, not drama, so kids can deal with it," advises Dr. Little. Keeping it short and to the point will also steer clear of confusion and help your youngster focus on the news at hand.

Stay positive

Although you may be processing your own feelings concerning the news at hand, Gibbs advises parents to try to put on a brave front when it comes to your kids. Your children often follow your lead when it comes to emotions, so try to encourage your youngster to get past the bad news by maintaining a positive attitude.

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Ask your child's opinion

Regardless of your child's age, it's important that you validate his feelings by asking what your child feels and thinks about the matter at hand. But, that doesn't mean you have to foster your kid's misery, recommends Gibbs. "Ask for the child's opinion on the matter. Allow a moment for thought then move on." Once you've given your youngster the chance to voice feelings about the bad news, address them and move on by changing the subject or engaging your child's attention elsewhere.

Although unpleasant information can come in the form of a death, distressing newscast or impending move, learning how to give your kids bad news will help you focus on giving your youngsters the support they need. "Be supportive in losses of family, friends, pets and moving to a new home," suggests Gibbs. "In most cases grief in children doesn't last long. The memory is there and as they grow older it is easier to deal with it later as it comes up." And, even when you're left not knowing what to say to your kiddo, "the most important thing to impart to a child is "We'll get through this,'" he assures. And together with your children you will.

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