Breaking Bad News
January 23, 2013
I have a student whose father is seriously ill and hospitalized as a result. My student whom I shall name Fred, has been visibly shaken by this. Fred still manages to attend school and keep up with his work. But it’s taking a toll. Every time his classmates ask about his dad or express concern or consolation, Fred visibly winces, but answers and appreciates all concerns. This week, however, he was visibly annoyed. I asked why and he said, “They told me my dad was getting better and then I found out he wasn’t. I don’t know why they lied.” I explained the best I could why adults “lie” about such things. We think it will be easier for our children to cope; there’s no point in burdening them with the truth; we really don’t know what happened, so why create more worries for our kids.” Of course, the actual results are the opposite of what we hoped to accomplish. First of all, it’s best never to forget that kids can pick out a lie the way a dog sniffs out a bone. They know when adults aren’t telling them the truth. And now Fred is angry. He doesn’t trust the adults in his life. He’s worried more because what is so terrible that they couldn’t tell him the truth. And if they do report improvement, now he doesn’t believe them. • When something bad happens, consider the following: • Give information according to your child’s age. Little kids need less detail than teenagers. • Be prepared to answer questions. • Reassure your kids. Assure them that you always love them and you will be there for them. If the bad news is about you, name other adults who will be there for them. • Talk about how the bad news will affect them personally. • Be prepared for different reactions – anger, tears, silence. Don’t read anything into their reactions. There is a lot of information to help you. The American Academy of Pediatrics has information about specific topics such as death, divorce, relocation. Many of the parenting websites offer hints as well. They even help you with various ages. Parentfurther.com; childrenshospital.org; jco.ascopubs.org – all are helpful websites for information. You can also speak with your school counselor or religious advisor for help. One thing they all agree on, however, is you shouldn’t lie, even with the best intentions.