This has been one of the hardest years I have ever had as a parent. It has been filled with grief, loss, and hurt that should never be experienced. Even worst, my kids had a front-row seat to a lot of it. When you go through hard times it can be simpler to just tell the kids it isn’t for them to worry about. However, sometimes you have to have hard discussions. There are seasons for explaining hard things to kids. We are in the middle of that season and I wanted to share some tips to help you if you are dealing with anything similar.
How to Talk to Kids About Hard Things
In the last year, we have lost 3 family members. One of these was to old age, one to cancer, and one to addiction. We have also had to terminate contact with grandparents, aunts, and uncles due to addiction. Close friends have chosen to end friendships and people we thought would be in our lives forever walked away. That is a lot for my adult heart to handle and process but it is even heavier for a young child to walk through. I won’t pretend that I have all the answers as we are still walking this road but I wanted to share in case any of this will help you.
A hard situation can get much more difficult if kids feel like they aren’t getting the whole truth.You don’t have to give the full extent of a situation but it is important kids feel informed when hard things are happening. We have had some very difficult honest conversations lately about the people we have lost to death and the people we have lost due to their choices. It has given me a chance to speak to the kids about what a healthy relationship is and is not.
Spare them your hurt
I don’t mean that you don’t hurt in front of your kids. It is very important for kids to see that their parents are human and can be hurt. Instead, I am saying spare them from your hurt when explaining the situation. Don’t let your pain from what someone may have done cause you to overshare with your kids. When I was a kid my dad constantly told me how bad my mom was as did my grandma. My mom wasn’t perfect and I’ll be the first to say it but I still loved her and I didn’t love hearing their horrible viewpoints about her. It is ok to give kids an overview of the situation but you don’t want to overburden them with too much information.
Give them room to process
As parents we often want to protect our children from things that hurt. That is completely normal. However, sometimes kids need time to process. They need to do what they can to wrap their head around the gravity of the situation. This could mean letting them have time when you don’t talk to them and letting them work through it on their own. One of my two needs time like this in order to move forward.
Expect behavior changes
Sometimes hard things are too much for a child to handle. They may not have the words to say they are hurting. They might be struggling to express the pain and burden. This can come out in a behavioral problem or change. Your child that may be a great listener might suddenly act out. There might be whining or fighting. As a parent you still need to deal with the behavior. However, there may be a time after the behavior has been corrected to sit down and discuss the big feelings you child is working through.
Give feelings a name
Sometimes when a child is facing something huge they may not know how to explain how it feels. This is a good time to help them name their feelings. Help them to understand anger, disappointment, sadness, fear, and any other feelings that may come as a result of the situation.
Have them write a letter they will never send
Sometimes kids need to get these big feelings out. Mine have been very angry with and hurt by a family member who chooses her addiction over them. I challenged them to write an honest letter to this person. I promised I would never mail it. The goal was for them to say what they need to and be completely honest. Sometimes kids need to get these feelings out in a safe way.
Give them a safe space
When things on the outside are falling apart it is so important to give kids a safe space. This doesn’t have to be a physical place but it needs to be a space where they can feel completely safe. They need somewhere they can go to work through big feelings and not be judged. They need a safe space where they can be reassured that they are enough no matter what someone else does.
Consider outside help
Sometimes kids will have a hard time processing hard things. It is completely ok to reach out for help beyond yourself. This could mean a pastor, friend, or counseling. Don’t be afraid to get your child the help they need to work through this big situation.
Are you going through something heavy that is hurting your child? You don’t have to explain what it is. Leave a comment saying that’s you and I am glad to pray for you.
Do you do something I haven’t listed to help your child understand hard things? Leave me a comment and let me know.