In our house, discussing anything other than breakfast before breakfast is like walking into a lamppost, but without the humour. Not one of us is fully constructed in the early morning, and even a murmured aside questioning the colour choice of a small hair clip can set off a chain reaction of fury, frustration and self loathing. It’s the same in most households I know made up of more than one person. One friend has parents who can (and do) discuss (extremely controversial) political issues (loudly) at any time of day or night, but can't discuss the chances of rain because it infuriates her so much that he's always so pessimistic about the weather. Tricky.
It might seem disingenuous, but learning which entirely necessary conversations should actually never happen is lesson 101 in maintaining a successful long-term relationship. In our house anyway. For us it’s either money or illness. Money is an obvious one, and it’s a bit of a no-go area at any time of the day when your contributing opportunities are as sporadic as mine. I have been known to choose wailing and chest-beating to nice man at First Direct over a quick chat with my pre-breakfasted husband about my secretly over-run overdraft.
Illness is a cross-family no-no. With the adults, any ache or pain shared aloud leads to an irritable diagnosis of over-drinking / eating / drinking and eating and generally having too much fun the previous weekend and getting too old to get over the effects by Wednesday. Livers and kidneys instantly start aching and breakfast in miserable silence is guaranteed.
With the children, the mention of illness has more troubling consequences. Handling the statement ‘Mummy, I have a bad feeling in my tummy’ is like being an explosives expert, and responding to it as a literal statement is entirely wrong. The implications of a tummy ache are messy and may have a financial inference, which is a breach of both forbidden subjects at once.
Allowing sentiment to dictate the way you handle a ‘bad feeling’ can be a time consuming mistake. For example, have you feed the child something they can’t tolerate? This will lead to weeks of investigative meal-making. Or have they been exposed to a bug? A yes here could lead to days off school for them and hours of unpaid CBBC watching for you.
The correct way to respond is with a short, kind glance and a special chat about how everyone feels bad sometimes but, whatever it is that your child needs to confess to, they’ll still be a loved and valued member of the family.