Tips for parents when talking about health with children:
Create time and emotional space
After you have tucked your child in for bed can be a good time to check in
Don't lead with your thoughts or feelings (whether fear for your child's well-being, anger, etc.)--let there be space for your child's own response to emerge first
Have several tools you can use, and be patient
Parents are generally quite emotionally attuned to their children--you probably have a good sense of what your child is feeling, but let him or her express it in their own way
Approach directly - if you think it would be helpful for your child to talk about a certain situation or experience, perhaps because it was emotionally powerful, or because it is a situation they will encounter again and you want to help them master it
Approach through a favorite stuffed animal or puppet, and "play" the situation or the feelings the toy would have in a similar situation. Another approach is to talk about how you felt about similar situations when you were young, and how you learned to handle the situation.
There is no perfect approach -- let your child's responsiveness be your guide as to what works for him or her.
About Dr. Don Mordecai:
Dr. Don Mordecai is the Chief of Psychiatry, and Chief of Health Promotion at Kaiser Permanente San Jose, and the Vice-Chair of Chiefs of Psychiatry for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.
Don is a native New Englander who discovered California on a bicycle trip in the 80's. He attended medical school and trained in Psychiatry, and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at Stanford University, where he met his wife, Corinna, a pediatrician.