Chapter 6: Supporting children in their grief

Communicating and answering questions

The grief expert says
Andrea Warnick, children's grief counsellor, explains how honest conversations help children to feel safe.(3:22)

Our sons have had a lot of questions along the way, and we’ve tried our best to answer them honestly in a way that they can understand. I recognize now that they’ve also experienced losses and grief as their mother’s illness has progressed.

Some of the most common types of concerns expressed by grieving children, have been referred to as the “4 C’s” — Can I CATCH it? Did I CAUSE it? Can I CURE it? and Who will take CARE of me. Below are some unique aspects of these concerns for children when someone has a progressive illness. Click each box read more about each concern and to see suggestions for talking with children about it.

If the person who is sick is the children’s primary caregiver, children wonder what will happen when the person becomes too ill to care for them. Reassure them and speak about who would help to care for them if needed for any reason.

If they have a parent who is looking after the person who is sick, the child may worry about their own care needs not being met. Let the child know that no matter how much you are caring for the ill person, you will still love and look after the child too.


If someone takes over a parent’s roles or responsibilities, a child may feel guilty or worry about “replacing” their parent. If the child is worried that someone is replacing their parent, be sure to clarify that while someone may do certain tasks and activities, no one will ever take the parent’s place in their life.

Conversation prompts

“If Mom gets too sick, I’ll still be here to look after you, and your aunt will also come to help us.”

“Even though I have been very quiet and feeling sad lately, I would love to hear about what is going on at school.”

“I know you’re not happy about your sister making your meals and taking you to school. She wants to help out and look after you, but that doesn’t mean she’s trying to replace Mom. Your mom will always be your mom, and no one can take her place.”