Dr Sia Rees, a Counselling Psychologist in our LAD Centre at Highbury, prepared and delivered a talk for our Highbury parents in Term 1 called ‘Is Sharing Caring’. Here is a summary of her talk:

Every child is different. Every family is different. Sharing is child and family-specific and yet we can all benefit from being intentional and discussing important topics with your spouse before talking to your children.

We often underestimate the power of our words. Our words frame our thoughts, our thoughts frame our behaviour, our behaviour determines who we are in this world. The power of ONE conversation can determine your course. “A conversation is not just an exchange of words. Talking together does something. It is an action. It carries power. It affects material reality. The more intentional we are in how we communicate, the more likely our co-creations are to delight us rather than disappoint us. As Juanita Brown, says, ‘Just as fish don’t see the water in which they swim, we rarely notice the larger systemic influence of the webs of conversation in which we participate.’ When we pay more attention to the ‘water’ of conversation we swim in, great things can happen!” – Sarah Rozenthuler, Life-Changing Conversations: Seven Strategies for Talking about what Matters Most.

Words don’t only come from people – technology means we are bombarded with messages all the time, in videos, programmes, advertising and more. Repeated messages are particularly important. These are the things we say often that all relate to how we are guided in our lives. These create our culture. Highbury Preparatory school has a culture. Our country has a culture. Your workspace has a culture. Your religion creates a culture. But the culture that is most formative is your family culture. Young children receive and believe what their parents tell them above everyone else. What words are you using? What is your family culture? Don’t have one? Look to the family you were brought up in – what were you taught to believe in, to prize, to value. Are you simulating the same for your family or have you formed your family culture in opposition to that which you grew up in?

A problem we are seeing arise more and more frequently is that the dominant culture is becoming one of fear. How many things can we think of that we are afraid of? Ironically having all these fears increases the levels of stress hormones in your bodies, particularly cortisol – which increases your chances of an early death due to a heart attack! It’s depressing to think about. No wonder 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression and since 2010 depression, self-harm and suicide rates have increased among teenage boys and even more among teenage girls whose depression stats have gone from 12% in 2011 to 20% in 2017. However, in SA, there are 4.6 male suicides for every one female suicide.

What’s the alternative to this culture of fear? A culture of hope! Right now, how many things can you think of that you are hopeful about? That’s where it starts: what culture are you creating in your family. You can be realistic and share the rough realities with your children to prepare them, but it’s an art learning how to do this in a way that doesn’t induce fear, but rather inspires hopefulness. To create a culture in your family you need to be intentional. As parents, you need to talk about your belief system, your faith and your values. Decide early on what traits you want to encourage in your children, and be intentional about how you bring these to life. Be practical about – it’s not enough to only use the words, creating a culture is also about having actions that follow the words. You can’t say you’re a Christian family creating a Christian culture in your home and never pray, or go to church, or talk about Jesus in your home. You can’t say your family culture values respect but then not reprimand your children for speaking badly to yourself or their siblings. Repetition is key. Use phrases that emphasise your family culture, and make sure corresponding actions accompany your words.

Here are some practical examples of big topics and what you should and shouldn’t share with your children about them:

  1. The Future and the State of our Country

Culture of Hope (To share)

Culture of Fear (Not to share)

That starting and running your own business in this country is far easier than in many others because of there being less red tape.


Businesses in the country are all corrupt!

Everyone is trying to trick the tax man!


That quota systems may make it more difficult to get into certain programs, or to get certain jobs (not a worry for a 9-year-old, have these conversations in high school).


This country is going downhill fast.

There is no future for our children here.

Our children won’t get jobs in this country.


In this country, it is far easier to have a home with a garden and for your children to have their own bedrooms than many others in the world where this lifestyle is reserved only for the elite.


First world countries are much better. You have so much more of everything in a first world country (not necessarily sunshine).


Give them messages of safety. We live in a secure home, with an alarm system, with an electric fence, in a gated complex. We are safe.


Messages of violence and danger. Crime! Yes, your children need to understand that it is unsafe to walk around the streets on their own, just like you’d explain to them that it’s unsafe to play around the pool before they know how to swim. You don’t make them petrified of ever swimming. They do not need to hear the gory details of crimes that others have been exposed to (DO NOT READ OUT or let them see your neighbourhood crime groups). MOST people are actually really nice. Be cautious, be mindful, but not every car guard wants to steal your phone. Everyone is a bad guy just waiting to steal from or hurt you.


Yes, you need to research and make sure you’re choosing a good tertiary program, but there are endless options. SA graduates are snapped up worldwide in many different fields because of our good education and our unique experience. Vega, Varsity College, Stellenbosch, etc.


Our tertiary education is a disaster. Our degrees are worthless.

  1. Emigration

If you have chosen to leave, I wish you well. Please don’t fill your children with a culture of fear about SA in the hopes that they’ll run to their new country with open arms to get away from deepest, darkest Africa. Because they’ll go straight to school and spread the culture of fear pandemic.

Culture of Hope (To share)

Culture of Fear (Not to share)

Focus on messages of new beginnings and opportunity. Adventure. An opportunity for the family to grow.

Messages of fear that indicate you are leaving SA because of fear for their and your safety. It’s never good to speak over your children the message that you run when something is difficult.

Remember your children are concrete operational thinkers. Use calendars to mark off days until leaving, until the removal company comes, etc.



Encourage enthusiasm about their new life by researching, looking at pictures, information about the new school and new area, a wishlist, etc.



Importantly, also encourage positive reflection about the life they are saying goodbye to – a farewell book for friends to write in, photographs to go into, a list of their fav Durban things they would like to do before leaving. Transitional objects for special people. A farewell party. Selfies with mates.


Rather than quietly disappearing and only informing the child about leaving two weeks before going, they need time to process. However, if emigration is a vague possible option, do not have these discussions with your children yet. Make sure your move is definite first, have a date and time set and then inform them.

  1. Death

This is an especially sensitive topic and there are many differing views. Take into account your religious beliefs and your family values in making decisions about how to address death and illness. Also, communication is very age-dependent. 

Culture of Hope (To share)

Culture of Fear (Not to share)

If someone in the family dies tragically and suddenly, sit the child down in a safe and private place alone at home. Speak clearly and don’t mince your words: “Granny is not with us anymore,” can be very confusing. Speak with warmth and sensitivity, but be clear. First, give an emotional cue: “I have some very sad news to share with you”, then be direct and clear: “Granny died today, she had a heart attack, which means her heart got tired and stopped beating.” Then reassure: “Sometimes this can happen with people who are very old.” Then normalise emotion: “We will miss her very much and will feel very sad for a while.” Then shift to a positive: “Granny is with Jesus now in heaven, it is a happy place to be.”


Don’t let someone else be the one to share the news of a death (au pairs fetching the child from school, or a family friend). When they are receiving a major blow, they need the support of a parent. Don’t use euphemisms that are very confusing: “She has gone to sleep forever”.


Don’t deliver the news in the presence of a house full of mourners. Children need focused attention for those few minutes when the news is delivered. They also don’t need an audience watching and waiting for their reaction.

Expect almost insensitive reactions from them. Children process death differently to adults. It’s not uncommon for children to find out someone has died and then ask what’s for dinner or if they can play on the iPad.


Don’t discipline them harshly because they are not mourning in the same way you do.

While you need to show emotion, show strength too. You don’t want them witnessing major all-fall-downs.


Don’t hide your tears, how you respond sets the foundation for how they are allowed to respond.

Attending the funeral is a touchy subject. Some families expect children to attend, others give the child the choice. If they are attending, try to give them things that they are in control of such as where they want to sit, who they want to sit with, if they want to speak, what foods to have at the tea after the memorial.


Don’t have open coffins where possible. Those images tend to stay in children’s minds and can be traumatising.

They need routine: as much as possible keep mealtimes, bedtimes, bath times consistent. Get them back to school ASAP.

Don’t let them run amok, they need boundaries and control. Don’t let them use death as an excuse to cut school. They need the security and stability that school offers.


In the case of terminal/severe illness of a close family member, don’t share too much until you know the illness is very serious. Make the child aware that, “Daddy is very sick and doctors are trying to give him medicines that will make him feel better”. Be guided by the child, if he asks “Will Daddy die?” he’s showing you that he is ready to receive the answer. Be honest without being doom and gloom. “We don’t know if Daddy will die or not, we will know more when the medicine starts.” If it starts to get to the stage where recovery is not looking positive and doctors have advised there is nothing left to do, it is important to give the child the information so that he has time to process it. “The doctors have said that the medicine didn’t work and that Daddy is going to die. We don’t know when, but we know it’s going to happen.” Hard words to hear, but necessary.


Avoid gory details: children don’t need to know all the ins and outs of an illness to be prepared for the loss. They also don’t need to know in detail about the person suffering. If they ask “Is Daddy sore?” you can be honest but soften the blow: “Yes, Daddy’s sickness does make him sore, but he has special pills that he takes that take the pain away.” Be very careful about using illness as an excuse to manipulate naughty behaviour. “You see now, because you’re running around making a noise, Daddy is more sore.”


Topic 4: Divorce


Culture of Hope (To share)

Culture of Fear (Not to share)

Sit children down, preferably with both parents present and use clear and direct language and deliver the message. Start with an emotional cue: “Mommy and Daddy have some difficult news to share with you today.” Then deliver the message: “Mommy and Daddy have decided to get divorced.”


Don’t give too much information on accommodation, etc. initially. Let the news sink in first. Initially you just want to share that you’ve made the decision to get divorced.

Be guided by their questions which will come quickly. The main area you’ll need to cover is that one parent is moving out. Be clear about where Daddy or Mommy is going to stay so they don’t worry about him or her. Explain the contact they will have with the parent moving out. Children will be most concerned about how their lives will be impacted – who will take them to school, etc.


Make sure you’ve discussed all these questions before meeting with the children so that you don’t get caught on the spot trying to answer questions

If they ask why you are getting divorced, young children need a simple and understandable answer that can link to what they’ve witnessed: “You’ve seen how Mommy and Daddy have been fighting a lot lately. We’ve decided that it would be better if Mommy and Daddy are divorced and live in separate houses.” As children get older they may require more details.

Do not discuss affairs with children. “Mommy loving another man” whether it’s true or not, is too much for a child to process when they’ve just found out that their family is splitting.


Do not lay blame: “This was Daddy’s idea, Mommy doesn’t want this.” Again, as much as this may be true, it’ll create anger in the child towards a parent and at this time they need as much love and support as they can get from both parents.


Reaffirm how loved the children are by both of you. Reaffirm the things that won’t change.



Topic 5: School Politics

What not to share – EVERYTHING!

Don’t get involved in car park gossip. It breeds and feeds a culture of fear!


Comments about “Oh no, your brother had that teacher, he’s way too strict!” Every child’s experience is different. Comments like this can pave the way for your child’s experience before they’ve even met their new teacher.


Comments about sport teams and coaches and who is in which team and how unfair that is.


Don’t let your children hear you gossiping about other children and their parents – you set the tone for them becoming gossipers. DON’T! When gossip arises, gently stop your children and proclaim messages of privacy. “That information is private to that family, and it is not our business to talk about them and judge them.” Share messages of support, “Rather than laughing about Johnny behind his back, maybe we need to think about how Johnny must feel and what we can do to be a better support/friend to him.”


Topic 6: Fantasy

It’s important to talk as parents about how you will explain things like Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, the Toothmouse or fairy and others to your children when the time comes. Be prepared in advance so that you share a consistent message. Here’s a beautiful example of one approach: