How to announce bad news to children?

A problem in the family? Children have the right to know, and parents, the duty to explain. The advice of psychologist Béatrice Copper-Royer to do it smoothly.

Violaine Gelly

The little clashes and great misfortunes of life take on an even more painful resonance when, as parents, we have to talk to the children about it. The idea of ​​telling them that mom and dad are getting divorced, that their grandmother is very sick or that we do not have enough money this year to go on vacation is paralyzing us.

Yet it is important to overcome this discomfort. First of all, because to answer a child is to respect him. To consider him as an interlocutor in his own right is fundamental to the image he has - and will have later - of himself. Then because a child to whom his parents respond will build himself in the word, never hesitating to ask the help he needs. Some basic principles, with Beatrice Copper-Royer, psychologist-clinician specializing in children (latest book: "No, you're not a teenager yet!" Albin Michel, 2004) ...

When to talk to them?

Be careful: when he asks himself questions, even if he does not know how to formulate them, a child knows how to throw messages or give signs of worry. He becomes more "sticky" or more angry, makes whims or stays in his corner ... These changes in behavior clearly show that he felt discomfort. And all parents know that children have the ability to ask essential questions in unlikely moments: on the Sunday market, when they enter school, in the car while we are angry ...

We can then say: "Listen, I will answer you, but this is not the moment." Then, calmly, it's up to us to come back: "It was important the question you asked me earlier, if you want, I can answer it now."

In any case, it is necessary to provide answers. Even simple, even incomplete, they will prevent the child to fantasize and feel responsible for the discomfort: "If mom does not tell me anything, it's because she must be angry at me because it's my fault."

What to say to them?

With some poorly digested psychological theories, we sometimes went from "saying nothing" to "saying too much". For Beatrice Copper-Royer, "the secret is toxic, but the flow of information can be too." What is good for children is to tell them what will affect them. When a family event will inevitably affect them, have a repercussion on their lives, we must not leave them in the dark. Having said that, you have to talk to them about their age and remember that to say is not to say everything.We do not have to give all the information and we do not address a 6 year old child as a 14 year old teenager.

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