Saturday, 13 August 2011

Special Saturday - Dealing with Bad News

This week we have experienced another devastating event in one country which has deeply affected people around the world. We've all sat and watched in horror at the riots occurring in England.

This year has been particularly bad for events around the globe which have stunned and stopped people. Here in Australia we had the devastating floods, New Zealand had the earthquakes and Japan the Tsunami. Other countries have also experienced devastation and grief. Here in Western Australia we also experienced some devastating fires and flooding at the beginning of the year.

Every parent is always faced with the dilemma of how to talk to their children about these types of events. It is almost impossible to protect your child from them when every TV channel, radio station and newspaper is talking about nothing else and unless you stay at home and talk to nobody you can't avoid the inevitable shocked conversations at school, the shops and the carpark People need to talk to process the shock and grief.

Some parents gloss over the news hoping their children won't be impacted by the horror. Some parents make light of the situation and explain it in much lighter terms than it truly is. Other parents don't explain the situation at all presuming that it won't impact their children. I fall into the group of parents who explain the situation to their children in an age appropriate way.

For those of us with children who have special needs dealing with these types of stressful situations is even harder.

Until a few years ago we talked about what was happening in front of Cameron but we didn't necessarily sit down and explain it to him because intellectually he was like a baby. So as you would with a baby we would say things like Mummy is sad or it's been a sad day but we didn't go any further in the explanation. However Cameron started to show us that he had a greater understanding of the world around him so our behaviour changed.

My Grandmother became gravely ill and our non verbal child stood next to her hospital bed and said -'"Wake up Great Gran". You could have heard a pin drop in the packed room, you can imagine our shock. That was the day we started to offer more explanations to Cameron.

From that day on we have always explained to Cameron what is happening so he can understand the emotions surrounding him. When people die, we sit him down and tell him the person has died. Sometimes we don't get the socially acceptable response we are expecting but he lets us know in his own way that he understands. Sometimes a solemn silence, sometimes a comforting hug.

The day my Grandmother died he sat in her room and looked devastated. I told him it was normal to feel sad that was how we were all feeling. He looked like he was going to cry but didn't and he wouldn't let me hug him. In his own time he stood up and left the room. Once he was outside he resumed his usual cheery disposition and made everyone smile.

Because we've learnt how to explain bad news to Cameron when people have died we have been able to use the same approach to explain devastating events such as earthquakes, floods, fires and tsunamis.

This year it has been extremely fortunate that we have learnt how to break bad news to Cameron because his dog passed away, there's been 3 funerals, an unbelievable never ending string of natural disasters around the world and a bush fire which wasn't natural and came far too close to taking the lives of some very close friends. Cameron has spent the year surrounded by grief and shock and he has coped very well.

Hopefully we will see no more riots in England and no more floods, fires, tsunamis or earthquakes around the globe. It would also be nice if we didn't have to attend another funeral for a very long time. We are fortunate that Cameron will listen and process information at his own level, some parents are not so fortunate.


  1. Unfortunately bad news is a part of life. Sounds like you're doing a good job helping Cameron deal with the sad stuff. My 10 year old likes to watch the news with us, and when we see some natural disaster I usually tell him it happened "far away and would never happen here" (and hope I'm right). We all want to protect our children from the hard things in life, but sometimes the best we can do is teach them to cope with the hard parts and help each other through. Best wishes!

    Debbie K.

  2. I agree Debbie, teaching our children to cope with difficult situations helps them to cope in the future when we may not be there to help them.

  3. People deal with bad news in different ways and those with special needs are no different in that respect. Paul gets really angry when there's new of bad things happening, especially murder or people starving. It's good to have emotions, though, and if we don't allow them to show them, they'll never learn to deal with them. I'm glad Cameron's learned so much xx

  4. You're right Sharon, it's is really important that everyone learns to understand their emotions and respond to them.