Giving bad news to someone is never easy, and there’s no suitable method to go about it.
Thankfully, you can improve your communication skills to make the situation easier for them and you. How you break the news differs depending on whether you’re speaking to a child or an adult.
For starters, you want to make sure that your delivery is good. Your tone can mean everything when it comes to giving the message. When you are precise and calm in your delivery, those receiving it will clearly understand what you’re trying to tell them.
Did you know that people often model your behavior when they are being confronted? If you come at them in a combative tone, then they are likely to return the attitude. You can expect some opposition or push back if you’re firing someone, but you won’t get the same type of response if you’re telling a person of their relative’s passing.
When breaking bad news, you want to make sure that you use compassion and empathy. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for just a minute and see how you would react. The individual knows that you can’t resolve their problem, but they will want to feel like you understand their feelings.
Five Tips on Breaking Bad News to A Child
Children can feel the emotions of their parents and those around them even if they don’t have the ability to grasp what’s going on. The goal is to explain it to them in the most simplistic way possible. When dealing with grade school kids, they don’t need excessive details as their brains cannot process such data.
However, by the time a child gets to be around ten years of age, they can have more meaningful conversations with you, so you don’t have to beat around the bush. Here are some tips on how to break the bad news to children.
1. Be Honest
Many people think that children can’t handle the truth, but what they can’t handle is being lied to. If you learn anything today, remember that children will always find out if you’re lying. If their beloved pet died, don’t tell them they ran away or some other made-up tale.
Sit down and discuss life and death with them; after all, death is just as much a part of life as living. When you’re not honest, you can allow their little minds to try to invent fantasy explanations that can be downright frightening to them. What if a parent lost a job and the child is going to be forced to move?
Moving can be quite terrifying to a child, but what they need from their parent is to know that they have a lovely, warm house waiting on them. The job loss, even to a kid, can be overwhelming. They need to hear from you that everything is going to be okay.
2. Don’t Overwhelm Them with Details
Your child doesn’t need all the particulars about the situation. If you and your spouse are getting a divorce, they don’t need to know if there were infidelity and substance abuse issues. They need to know that they are still loved and will be taken care of regardless of what happens.
They also need to know that mommy or daddy will still be an active part of their life. Being truthful doesn’t mean that you must say everything you know. If that parent has done wrong things, let your child form their conclusions later in life.
It’s never wise to badmouth a spouse because it will only make the situation worse for the child who loves them.
3. Give Them A Chance to Speak
Don’t just drop a bomb on a child and then walk away. They need to be given a chance to speak. It’s quite therapeutic for a child to get what they’re thinking out in the open.
Don’t assume that just because they’re younger that they don’t understand, because most kids understand more than what you think. The last thing that you want to do is allow them to harbor resentment and to develop ill feelings about the issue later.
4. Repeat Important Information Twice
The point must get across to the child, so you may need to repeat parts of what you say twice. Children only can ingest so much at one time, so repeating the important parts ensures that they receive the news. If the key topic is divorce, reiterate that you’re getting a divorce, but they will always be loved and cared for.
5. Show Affection
Depending on the child and the situation, it’s usually appropriate to follow up horrible news with an outward expression of affection. If you just told your little girl that you are divorcing their other parent, they need a hug to help solidify the feeling that they’re okay. Keep an eye on them afterward as children can become depressed too.
Giving some horrible news to an adult is a different ballgame than delivering it to a child. Adults can handle the big topics, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need empathy and kindness. Here are some tips on how to break horrible news to adults with compassion.
1. Try Not to Blindside Them
In some respects, there is no way to avoid blindsiding a person with horrible news. However, if you can give them advance notice, it may help. People who are given bad news without warning often react negatively.
2. Make Sure You’re In A Comfortable Environment
The environment you deliver the news in is also essential. When dealing with private and hurtful things, you don’t want to tell them in a restaurant that’s full for the dinner rush. Use tact and pick a place where you can talk candidly and privately, so they are not forced to deal with emotions publicly.
3. Use Tactful Wording
Choose your words wisely. It’s okay if you rehearse your speech in front of a mirror before giving it to them. If you’re telling your spouse that you’re leaving and are in love with another person, then you certainly want to choose your words wisely.
If you come to them in an overly emotional state, then they will return the emotions. Try to be calm, cool, and collective. Some topics will invoke an explosion of emotions no matter how tactful your wording, but you must do the best you can with the situation.
4. Have Tissues Ready
If you will deliver life-altering news, it helps if you have the tissues ready. Learning that a mother or father has passed is devastating, and there will be tears. Please give them a shoulder to cry on and let them know that you’re there for them.
The worst thing you can do is compare your grief to theirs because even if you lost your parent, you don’t know how they feel. Your emotions and feelings are different, and it’s not helpful to soothe someone by telling them that you understand their pain. It can make some people mad if you’ve never experienced it, and you try to make such parallels.
5. Follow Up with Them Later
If you’ve dealt a devastating blow to someone with some bad news, don’t just leave them alone. You need to check back in with them later. If you just told someone that their spouse was cheating or their parent died, then you need to do a follow-up. Grief can do all sorts of things to the emotions, and if someone already has mental health issues, they can become suicidal or very depressed.
Check on this person in a few hours, and then keep in contact with them in the upcoming days. If they’re dealing with a devastating situation, then they will need your friendship and compassion to help them get through the mountain they’re facing.
Whether dealing with an adult or a child, there’s no easy way to tell someone news that will alter their life. Above all else, use empathy and kindness because you never know when it will be your turn to get such shattering news. Life changes and things happen that alter your destiny continuously, but your ability to help others through these times will speak about you as a person.
When it’s your turn to receive bad news, the same kindness that you extend to others will come back to you. Some situations are not easy to handle no matter how eloquently someone delivers the news, but you can show them love and support to make the difficult time easier to handle.