Chapter 4: Talking to others
Talking to children
My eight-year-old asked me if her daddy was going to die. I knew this child was very direct, and that there was no way I could sugar coat this for her. We cried together but there was no other way to handle it.
While there is no “right time” that works for everyone to tell a child that an ill family member is likely to die, there is one certainty: children of all ages benefit from being prepared in advance for the death of someone close to them.
Why talking to children is so important
Children know when people around them are upset. Telling young people about a serious illness lets them know that it is okay to ask questions. There are many good reasons to communicate honestly with children about an illness when someone is dying.
- Trusting caregivers is key to a child or youth’s sense of security, so it’s important to keep them aware of what’s taking place.
- Withholding information from children increases the probability that they will hear upsetting information from sources outside the family.
- Preparing children for death does not remove the pain, but it does help them make sense of what is unfolding around them.
Click the arrows below for some strategies for talking to children about a serious illness or death.
Tailor your talk to your child’s unique personality, understanding, and developmental age and stage.
Be prepared for your child’s unique reaction: they may have many questions all at once, or they may have nothing to say in the moment and need time to process.
Realize that not all questions will be answered in one conversation.
Although it is tempting to change details to soften the impact, keeping important information from children and youth frequently increases their anxiety.
In some instances, seeking professional help in talking to a young person about death can be very useful.