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.

Helpful resources