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Talking to Children About Terminal Illness

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 28 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Children Illness Terminally Ill Death

Until it becomes a part of their lives very few children are familiar with the idea of terminal illness. When it does become a part of their lives most children need a good deal of information and support to process what terminal illness means and how it will affect their lives.

Discussing a particular illness with children, discussing terminal illnesses with children, preparing children for terminal illness and deciding on how children will interact with the terminally ill are all things that adults will have to do to help children deal with the new developments in their lives.

Discussing The Particular Illness With Children

There are many types of terminal illnesses, so adults should discuss the particular illness that will affect them with the children involved. The illness should be named so that children do not feel that it is some sort of vague threat, and any questions that a child asks about it should be answered. Adults should also try to discuss any treatments that an individual might undergo, and what it means for the ill individual, that individual’s family and the child in question. Many children feel more in control when they have more information, but adults should take care not to make predictions that they have no control over in the future.

Discussing Terminal Illness With Children

Children should be told what terminal illness means. Children as young as age four will have some idea of the concept of death, so it should be made clear that “terminal” means that the illness will lead to death. This will not be an easy conversation, but it is important as it will allow children to prepare for the future and decide how they would like to proceed.

Some children may wonder why, if death is assured, that an individual will still choose to receive treatment. Others may wonder if prayer will help cure a terminally ill loved one. Adults will have to make their own decision about how to answer these questions, but if they do want to discuss miracles they should make it clear that a miracle could happen, but that is not a probability.

Preparing Children For Terminal Illness

When a child is diagnosed as terminally ill it can be very hard for parents to discuss this diagnosis with the child. Some parents may believe that they are protecting a child by not telling him or her about a terminal illness, but for the most part a child will already know that something serious is going on. By not telling a child about their terminal illness, parents also take away the child’s ability to decide what they would like to do with the time they all have left together. How and when to tell a child about his or her terminal illness will be different for all parents, but having medical staff or a member of the clergy with them may be helpful.

Children And The Terminally Ill

When a child has a terminally ill loved one they should not be prohibited from visiting unless it is a medical necessity. Keeping children away from the terminally ill may communicate to them that they are unwanted or that the ill individual is somehow dangerous. If a child is prohibited from visiting then it should be explained to them in a manner that they can understand and they should be encouraged to communicate in other ways such as by cards, emails, videos and more.

Terminal illness is not something with which most children are familiar. Discussing a particular illness, discussing terminal illness, preparing children for terminal illness and allowing children around the terminally ill are all ways that adults can help children become more familiar with terminal illness.

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When my daughter was 6 one of her close friends lost her mum to cancer. The little girl was closely supported by her family - and she still has lots of aunties stepping into the 'mum' role when needed even 10 years on. She was as well prepared as anyone can be, but I don't think losing a parent is something you ever get over. Having the support of friends and family is the most crucial thing and being completely honest about what's going to happen..
llastingimpact - 22-May-12 @ 4:52 PM
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