“I have two kids in the house who don’t know their mom is dead. What do I tell them?”
We can all hope we will never have to deliver this news, especially to a young child. But failing to prepare for a horrible thing doesn’t make it easier. And accepting reality doesn’t make it worse. So, in case you ever have to break the news, here is one pastor’s guidance for doing a hard thing well.
- Don’t lie. Don’t soften it. Don’t sugar-coat it. Tell the truth. Speak in simple, declarative sentences.
- Don’t use metaphors. Young minds don’t handle metaphors well. Most of us develop that skill sometime in High School. Speak in simple, clear sentences.
- Don’t try to “be strong” for their sake. Your tears validate their tears. Your emotions show them that they are right. It really is horrible, it really is real, and they are not alone.
- If they ask a question, the best answer is usually, “What do you think?” If you give them an answer first, they feel pressure to agree with your “right” answer. But if they speak first and then you respond, they have a chance to pick which answer works for them. If they don’t pick yours, maybe they’re not ready for it and they will be later. If they do switch to your answer, you just gave them a gift that helped them cope.
- Let them cope in their own way. Maybe they need to cry. Maybe they need to play. Maybe they need to sleep. Whatever they choose, it likely brings them comfort or control. Unless they are hurting themselves or someone else, let them grieve how they grieve.
- If possible, give them the best chance to hear this well. Don’t wake them up in the middle of the night. Don’t talk to them when you are inconsolable and out of control.
- Give them as much of a support network as you can. Friends and family, especially their own age, can help them grieve, and they spread the load so it doesn’t all fall on you.
- As horrible as this is for you, it is worse for them. Accept their grief, and find someone else to accept yours.
- Warn them the bad news is coming.
- Introduce the news progressively, not abruptly.
- Tell them.
- Love on them.
- Guys, I have some bad news.
- I have some horrible, sad news.
- There was an accident.
- Your mom was in a car accident.
- It was a bad accident and she got hurt.
- People tried their best to help her.
- The injuries were too much.
- She died.
- *Stop talking.*
- *They will probably break down. Love on them. Cry with them.*
- *Keep living.*
Congratulations. You just did one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do, and you did it well.