How to Talk About Managing Illness with Children

When a child is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, having conversations about the nature of their disease and death is an extremely difficult task. It can be hard to know how to have these talks and whether you’re doing the right thing. Remember that this conversation will look different for every child, depending on things like age and the nature of their illness.

Start the conversation. This may sound simple, but one of the most important things you can do is simply start the conversation. Each child and family is unique, and there’s not always a guide map you can follow. By starting the conversation and reassuring your child that they are heard and loved, you can build trust and comfort. 

Use simple, direct language. Avoid using euphemisms like “passing away.” Be as honest and concrete as possible, and use language that your child can understand.

Let your child lead the discussion. Listen carefully to your child and pay attention to what’s on their mind. Allow them to ask questions and give honest answers in return. You can also ask them open-ended questions, which will help encourage them to answer in their own words and express how they view things.

Lean on your support team. Our social workers, grief counselors, chaplains, and nurses are available to speak with you and the children in your family. 

Continue the conversation. As the situation changes, your child may have new and different questions. It’s important to revisit topics and check in with your child. And if they don’t want to talk now, let them know you’re always there for them when they’re ready.