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I'm a pediatrician by training with an undergrad degree in journalism. I spend my days teaching and mentoring future pediatricians. My wife and I spend our evenings and weekends keeping up with very active twins. This blog will chronicle my thoughts on current children's health care issues and trends, trials and tribulations as a parent and husband mixed in with a lot of life experience.

 

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photo William Stratbucker, MD
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Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Sharing Big News with Your Child
by William Stratbucker, MD at 09:25 AM

Guest blogger Adelle Cadieux, PsyD, is a pediatric psychologist with the Spectrum Health Medical Group and Helen DeVos Children's Hospital.

There is no perfect way to share big news with your child, but no matter what the news, it's important to remember you know your own child better than anyone else. So, think about what your child's reaction might be before you share your news.

For instance, your child could be excited that you are moving, or very upset. Also, it's best to never assume that something will be a big deal to a child, even though it is to you. Therefore, I recommend taking a low-key approach to sharing whatever news you have-for instance, don't "announce" it-this sets kids up to have a reaction. Instead, state that there is something you want to talk about.

I'd like to share a personal story of how I shared big news with my own five-year-old son: we had to let him know our dog, Teemu, was likely going to die, and knew that it probably would happen before he returned home from daycare that day. Prior to this, we spent many months talking about how Teemu was getting old and sick and needed to be treated more gently and how he was not going to be with us for much longer. So, that morning we spent extra time saying goodbye to Teemu, sharing special memories and crying together. When Teemu wasn't home when our son came home from daycare, we were all sad but our son was somewhat prepared. After several weeks he began asking questions about when Teemu would come back and we needed to explain to him several times that he would not be coming back. Sometimes the questions stirred more emotion in me than it did my son.

Although there is no "one size fits all" approach to sharing big news with your child, here are some general guidelines:

  • Provide basic information at first, and details later. Too much detail initially can be overwhelming.
  • Recognize that your child's verbal skills develop more quickly than his or her ability to understand abstract concepts such as death, loss (like a move or divorce), so even though he or she may be familiar with the words, the meanings behind them may be hard to grasp.
  • The older your child is, the more likely he or she will want more details, so be prepared to answer questions.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions.
  • Listen to your child (what your child will be concerned about may be different from what you assume). Example: When we were considering moving, I had many thoughts of what my son would be concerned about; however, the only thing that mattered to him was if he would get to bring his toys. When I reassured him he would, he was fine with the idea of moving.
  • If you are moving, walk around your neighborhood and talk about the things you will miss and things you will be glad to leave behind.

Some children do better with advanced warning and some children will worry if given too much warning. It helps, though, to discuss the steps of the transition and timeframe for those steps. Younger children have more difficulty understanding the concept of time. Using a calendar to mark off days and countdown to each step can help: five more days and we'll pack, seven more days and the moving van comes, eight days we'll be in the new house, etc.

- Dr. Cadieux

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