Crisis Communication

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taffelDr. Ron Taffel is known as one of the most captivating and practical child-rearing experts in the country.   He is the author of two best-selling books, Parenting by Heart: How to be in Charge, Stay Connected and Instill Your Values- When it Feels Like You’ve Got 15 Minutes a Day (Addison Wesley) and Why Parents Disagree: How Women and Men Parent Differently and How We Can Work Together (Morrow).  He was a frequent contributor to The Confident Parent, a monthly column that ran in McCalls Magazine from 1991 to 1996. He has also been featured on 20/20, The Today Show, CNN, and hundreds of radio shows.  Ron has a private practice in New York City and is the Founder of The Family Therapy Division at The Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.  He is married and has two children.

Often when a child becomes suddenly ill, or when there is a significant trauma in his life, or his medical condition changes, parents put additional pressure on themselves to communicate perfectly.  The following is an article with success strategies to help you share important news with children.

Don’t feel pressured to communicate perfectly. With children there’s rarely one “make or break” conversation.  Understand that many mini-discussions will occur.  Any mistake you’ve made can be talked about again.  Even when it comes to highly upsetting events, there are almost always second chances to talk things over. As you approach your child with new distressing information, try to be direct and kind.  If there are two parents, rely on the parent who has the strength to take the lead in the conversation.  If you are a single parent, ask the doctor or child life professional to answer questions that you have prior to talking to your child.

Know and respect your child’s communication style. This includes the time of day he/she usually talks, whether a lot of questions help or hinder, and activities during which he/she opens up.

Kids talk in the middle of doing other activities. This fact of communication does not change, even during a crisis.  So remember, kids open up while in “parallel position” to parents.  Some examples are walking to school, bath time and bedtime.

Protect these moments. Create or stick to as many “talking rituals” as possible and your child will naturally open up even about difficult matters.

Don’t assume. During crises, adults can’t help but interpret what kids feel.  More often than not, our guesses don’t hit the mark, and kids can become more reluctant to talk.  So try to keep an open attitude. As part of not assuming, stick to the questions your child asks.  Try not to offer one fact more than a child brings up.  Remember, kids can feel easily overwhelmed and far more anxious by too much information.  Let your child lead.

Try not to pounce. During tough times parents want so badly to communicate that we tend to drop everything when a child seems ready to talk.  Unfortunately, most kids feel pressure when we’re over-eager and they end up clamming up.  Have faith in your child’s ability to gradually open up. In summary, if you:

  • Let your child lead
  • Are patient
  • Protect talking rituals
  • Respect your child’s communication style
  • Remember that mini-discussions have the power to heal
  • Understand that mistakes can almost always be mended

… then you will keep the lines of communications open, even during the most challenging times.