Conveying bad news is never easy and it’s natural to feel uncomfortable. However, improving your communication skills can make the situation go much smoother for everyone. Whether you need to break bad news to children or adults, these strategies of letting them know about unfortunate events can make it easier on both of you.
Breaking Bad News to Children
1. Consider the child’s age and maturity level. Babies and small children will react to their parent’s distress even if they don’t know what’s going on. Shield small children from TV news and reassure them if they’re exposed to something upsetting. Try your best to explain the situation in the most simplistic way.
• School age children may hear things from their peers that you’ll need to clarify without overwhelming them with excessive details. At about age 9, most children can think more logically and will benefit from thoughtful conversations.
2. Be honest. Children need to know the facts. Otherwise, they may invent fantasy explanations of their own that are more frightening and destructive than the reality of the situation. For example, if your family is facing foreclosure, let your kids know why you’re moving but reassure them that you have plans for alternative living arrangements.
3. Avoid excessive detail. You can tell a child the truth while sparing them the particulars. For example, if you and your spouse are getting divorced, explain that you’re moving out of the family home but refrain from discussing your dissatisfaction with your marriage.
4. Let your kids talk. Having an opportunity to talk is therapeutic for your kids. You’ll get a sense of how much they already know and what questions they need answered. You may find they understand more than you thought.
5. Repeat important messages. Small children can only absorb so much information at a time. For example, it’s common for them to ask if a relative who has passed on will be coming home again. Be prepared to repeat important discussions until their understanding deepens.
Breaking Bad News to Adults
1. Give advance notice, if possible. Disasters often strike unexpectedly, but there are many instances where you can help people prepare. People are more likely to over react when blindsided.
2. Create a private and comfortable setting. Allow someone a private setting for absorbing intense news. They’ll probably feel more comfortable without spectators around.
3. Outline your message. You can rehearse your speech without sounding as if you’re reading it aloud. This will help you to construct the most tactful wording and avoid dragging things out. You’ll also be more likely to convey all the necessary facts.
4. Allow for tears. Be open to whatever emotional reaction occurs. It’s always good to have tissues ready. Wait patiently if people react with silence or crying. Empathize with their disappointment or anxieties.
5. Share realistic hopes. If someone responds to bad news by stating they’ve already started taking steps to cope with the predicament, encourage them in their efforts. Avoid euphemisms or downplaying the seriousness of the situation if a person really needs to come to terms with a profound challenge.
6. Be prepared with helpful resources. People may have trouble thinking clearly when confronted with a sudden loss. In case they want assistance, think ahead to what they’ll need next. They may appreciate the number for their local unemployment office or a relevant support group.
7. Follow up. People may be too overwhelmed to fully comprehend what you’re saying so they may not ask all the essential questions. If necessary, let them know you’re available to speak again when they’re ready for a more detailed discussion.
Bad news is an unpleasant fact of life, but the impact can be softened with understanding and sensitive dialogue. You can make it easier for kids and adults to get through rough times by being honest and empathetic and working to improve your communication skills.