I’ve always marveled at kids. Their joy. Their love. Their curiosity. Their questions. Their innocence. Their potential.
Oh, and let’s not forget their stupidity. We’ve all been there. I remember the bullying, the biased teachers, the mundane classes, the heartbreak and the late nights.
My parents heard most of it. Some things I was too ashamed to talk about but for the most part, my family was pretty open. Luckily, my parents never had to have “those” conversations. I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about the conversations you hope you never have to have with your kids – divorce, disease, death.
Unfortunately, at 44, disease came too soon for my wife.
Six weeks ago, my wife was admitted to the hospital. She had to undergo a rather serious operation. Due to COVID-19 only one person could accompany her to the hospital. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was scared. My wife, even more so.
Things can and do go wrong. We have to hope for the best, but you just never know. I’ll admit don’t know if I would have been strong enough to tell my son something had gone wrong. As it turned out, I didn’t have to. The surgery went smoothly and her results were the best possible we could have hoped for under the circumstances.
After my wife got the bad news, the last thing I wanted to do was show fear because fear begets fear. I believe in fighting the negative with the positive. I did my best to keep my wife’s spirits up. I hid my fear by keep to my schedule and continuing as if everything was normal. I would tell funny stories and crazy stories of things I’d read or heard. I did what I could to prevent my son from feeling what I did inside.
Though I didn’t show my fear, I did lose 10 pounds rather quickly. Even though I put up a good front, my body felt it. I even ate more chocolate than usual to keep my weight from dropping too quickly.
Kids are cleverer than we give them credit for. They pick up on the smallest of changes in character. They might not know exactly what it is, but that something’s not right.
To prevent his imagination running wild, we decided the best course of action was to be upfront with him. But there is a thin line parents must tread. You neither want to downplay the dangers nor exaggerate them.
I believe there are four keys to talking to kids about tough things.
- Honest, but not blunt.
- Open, but not over the top.
- Talk to them, but not down to them.
- Answer their questions, but do not scare them.
We told him what would happen, but not the percentages. We shared with him the facts as we knew them, but not all of them. We wanted our son to understand that it was serious, but that she was in good hands. We revealed every piece of good news we could, and hid those facts he didn’t need to know.
Will this work for your kid? I believe so, but it’s important to understand that every kid is unique.
Many years ago, my mentor introduced me to Ken Blanchard’s book, The One Minute Manager. While I can’t say it was one of my favorite books, its lesson stuck with me and it’s worth revisiting in this case.
In a nutshell, the book states that we must manage employees on their level. There is no one-size-fits-all because each person is at their own level of capability. Managers need to adjust to the needs of each individual and manage accordingly.
The same concept applies to kids. If your kid is prone to negative thoughts or easily cries, a gentler approach might be in order. For the more mature kids, like my son, I would recommend a similar approach to mine. How much you feel you should share is something you and your spouse should discuss.
As Forrest Gump would say, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” We might be able to predict when we will have to raise these issues with our kids, but pretending they don’t exist is just plain silly. Talk to your kids, help them understand, and you’ll be amazed at the results.