The first part of this blog introduced the importance of speaking to children about changes or difficulties that might be occurring within the family. The importance of keeping in mind the child’s development stage to act as a gauge for adults when presenting information was discussed. I also emphasized the importance of the adult understanding that the child cannot be their confidant or placed in positions where they are asked to take sides; the aim of the information being shared with the child is only to help the child have an understanding of what is happening within the family.
Another important element to keep in mind is that children seek consistency in the explanation that they receive. This means that if one adult gives a particular explanation to the child, other adults ideally also explain the concept in, as much as possible, a similar way. Complete inconsistencies in the explanations given may leave a child feeling insecure and possibly even anxious about what is happening in the family. For instance, a child can become confused if one parent explains death as a state of forever sleeping, and the other parent describes it as being taken by the angels. Consistency in explanations given can be facilitated through a conversation between the parents so that both parties agree on a specific explanation prior to speaking to the child. Of course, this preparation can be achieved to a certain extent, as one cannot fully predict what questions a child could come up with.
Some children can connect better to explanations if these are done through play or through story telling. One can look for children’s picture books which could support an adult when explaining to their child concepts such as illness, loss, separation of parents, and the introduction of a sibling within the family.
As described in this two-part blog, there are a number of things to keep in mind when explaining changes or struggles experienced by a family to a child. The main recommendations included in this blog were: keeping in mind that the information being given is for the benefit of the child and not for the benefit of the adult, giving the child an age-appropriate explanation, trying to keep explanations as consistent as is possible and to also consider using creative play and story-telling to support adults while giving these explanations. These suggestions will ultimately hopefully show the child that they have permission and safety to ask questions or to discuss concerns with adult family members. Children might think that it is not ok to talk about being sad, missing someone, feeling anxious about a change that is going to happen and so on, until the adults in their lives show them that it is safe to do so.
Rebecca Cassar is a Family Therapist practicing the Systemic Approach. She specializes in offering therapy to families, couples and individuals who are experiencing distress in their relationships. She can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 79291817.