'There's no easy way of saying this'

You've read all the parenting books and feel somewhat prepared to deal with the difficult questions your child may ask. But how on earth do you answer the question "why are the police taking Daddy away?". Cybershrink Prof Michael Simpson has some advice.

There's no really easy way to do this sort of task, but the simplest is usually the best. One would sit calmly with the children - and these are old enough to understand the essentials of the situation - and talk about it.

One would start with things they almost certainly already know, that there have been problems in the family involving their Dad, and ask them, early on, what they have noticed and overheard, and what they think might be going on. This phase is important, because (a) kids notice far more than we usually give them credit for, and (b) they tend, like adults, to fill the gaps between the bits they know, with fantasy about what might be happening. These ideas often being even worse than the truth. It's hard to correct their misconceptions until you know what these are.

Then explain the basic facts, in relatively simple terms but not over-simplified to the point of confusing. If he has always been a kindly dad, you could reassure them that he made a very serious mistake, of a particular kind, and that the law requires punishment for this sort of mistake, to be sure that one won't make it again.

One could explain that he might have to go to jail for a time, but that he and the whole family still love them very much and will care for them.

The media
Explain that the newspapers and TV/radio may be telling stories about this, and so they may hear twisted versions of these events, from other people - and that they can and should always return to you and check out the truth, and talk about whatever they hear from others.

Talk about what they might say if anyone from the press, or strangers, ask them questions. Perhaps how to say: "I have nothing to say about it, please stop bothering me". Ask them to think about what might happen at school, if other children hear about it - what the other children might say, and what ways they might choose to react to this. If necessary, one could even rehearse such situations, to let them practise how to reply with dignity and to avoid conflict.

Fortunately, kids are resilient, and usually handle such crises better than we expect, especially if there are some reliable people around as sources of love and comfort.

(Professor Michael Simpson)

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