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Should I Tell My Kid That Something’s Wrong?

Break-ups, prejudices, money problems, illnesses, and death—adult life is messy. For older generations, it was seen as pivotal to keep these things hidden from the kids—but now we know that children catch on to things quickly, and that parental secrecy often just means that they don’t feel comfortable coming to us about their worries.

First, the most common recommendation, but sometimes the most difficult: tailor your information to your child’s age. A toddler can’t handle the intricacies of the family budget, but can understand “We like to save money for these things instead of spending it on those.”

Turning the issue around into a chance to practice compassion is a good way for children to feel like they have some control over a situation. For example: “Grandpa has a problem that makes it hard for him to remember. It doesn’t hurt and you can’t catch it. It must be frustrating to forget… Do you think if we drew pictures of things we like to do together, it would make him happy to look at it? Me too!”

One huge pitfall that can come up during divorce is treating kids like they’re our friends. Letting out our own stress, anger, and fear is something we have to save for other adults. Children shouldn’t ever have to listen to the reasons you dislike their other parent—but do let them know that even though you’re going through something hard, it always makes you happy to spend time together with them.

Finally, turn to your local library for resources. Let it be the first place you go! Most libraries will have a separate section with “Big Issues” books—anything from potty training, jail, death, addiction, having a sibling born prematurely—they have it all. Not only do they have books, but the librarians have access to community resources for every situation, and they are happy to help you find it.

If you’ll looking for a book recommendation, be sure to comment and we’ll do our best to help! For more parenting tips, sign up for our newsletter.