Barriers to Sharing Difficult Information

September 11, 2012

What are the Barriers to Sharing Difficult Information?

A recent discussion with adoption professionals focused on parents who choose to withhold difficult information from adopted children. A question was posed: Is the motivation to protect the child or for the adults to avoid the task? All of us understood that many adoption stories include painful, complicated information.

Regardless of how unpleasant, horrific, or challenging the information, a child is entitled to the truth of his life story. This sharing of information requires compassion and the delivery of age-appropriate facts. All must be expressed with honesty and delivered with an attitude that the child is capable of hearing, understanding and coping with the information. The conversation must validate the child’s emotional experience without diminishing or exaggerating those emotions.

Parents must resolve their own feelings about the facts so they can come from a place of support for their child. It is important that any parental judgment or sense of overwhelm not be conveyed to the child. Be mindful and intentional about tone of voice and body posture. They convey a disconnect which children identify easily. If body language contradicts the words spoken, children will be confused and will infer that their information is shameful, their fault and insurmountable.

Parents must resist the inclination to shelter children from their difficult history. It is natural to want to shelter and protect children from harm. In this case, however, the kinder, gentler approach is to dole out the information over time in a way the child can absorb without being crushed emotionally. Parents must face this challenge head on and must be as brave as their children in facing this difficult task. Because they love their child, they are the best people for this job. They must model courage and optimism. This confidence will steady the children and will act as a rudder that will assist them in navigating the turbulent water of painful and unpleasant facts.

When parents postpone telling a child “because it would be too hard,” they need to consider how much more difficult it would be for a child to learn abruptly, later in life. This kind of discovery often stresses the trust relationship between parent and child and can have extremely damaging consequences for both. The seeds of doubt and mistrust will have been planted and a relationship fractured. Children question: What else has been hidden or withheld? A new challenge is created and the child becomes further burdened with emotional baggage. How can the trust be rebuilt? Parents can avoid this crisis by choosing to tell the truth to their children. Thus, when parents reassure their child that she can manage, she will believe their assertion. Because she knows, her parents tell the truth—always.

When preparing for a difficult conversation, consider this TASTE formula for the task:

TASTE = Truthful + Age-appropriate + Simple + Timely + Empathetic

Gayle Swift

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