Discussing Stressful Events

One of the more difficult parts of dealing with stressful situations is explaining to your family and children what is happening. It is never easy to share or to learn upsetting news. This section provides guidance to help parents feel more prepared to handle these conversations. The themes to keep in mind are to remain calm, straightforward, and accepting of how your child reacts. This may be an upsetting conversation for you, and it is appropriate to show emotion. However, it is important to manage your emotions and demonstrate that the situation and the feelings that come along with it are manageable. Use simple, understandable language with your child. You likely will not share all the details and information that you know, especially with younger children, but make sure everything you say is honest and accurate. Hiding important information or being misleading can end up upsetting your child more later on, even if you intended to protect them. It is often helpful to think through what you want to say and how you want to say it beforehand. Be prepared to talk to your child about what will happen next, after the conversation. Plan a time to check in after your child has had time to think about what you discussed. Kids often benefit from having actions they can take in the situation. Give them a job or task to do to help them feel useful or more in control. Finally, be prepared for a wide range of reactions from sadness to anger to seemingly calm and unaffected. Kids respond in different ways and that is okay. As always, approach the discussion with kindness to yourself and your family and remember there is no one right way to have these conversations. Even if it does not go as well as you hoped, you can always circle back and try again.

Discussing stressful events, changes, and upsetting news can be difficult. This is especially true when trying to decide how to share upsetting news with children. Children respond in many different ways and the amount and type of information you share will be different depending on the age of the child. Here are some points that can help you navigate challenging conversations.


  1. Have a plan. Prepare what you want to say beforehand.
  2. Stay calm. It is okay to show your emotions, but it is important to stay calm.
  3. Initiating conversations and following your child’s lead. Share what you have been thinking about and find out what your child already knows.
  4. Be honest and clear. Describe things in a simple, straightforward way and tell the truth.
  5. Admit when you don’t know. If you don’t know the answer, you can find more information later.
  6. Listen actively and accept how your child reacts. Children respond to stressful events in many different ways. Stay calm and reflect back what you hear your child say.
  7. Don’t blame. Blaming others can lead to confusion or kids tuning out if parents appear angry.
  8. Empower your child. Offer reassurance that you will care for your child and find some age-appropriate responsibilities to channel concerns into action.
  9. Be available to check back in. Plan to check in again later, and notice times when your child is most likely to talk.

You can download these steps in a worksheet to help plan what you want to say during your discussion, as well as what actions you and your family can take next.