How to Explain Terminal Illness to a Child

Posted by Claire Coshan on June 10, 2015

Terminal illness is very difficult for children to understand and explaining it to them can not only be upsetting, but very tricky too. How are you supposed to tell your child that someone that they care deeply about is ill and they are not going to get better? Not only that, you have to tell them that they are going to die, too. And you have to do this in such a way that does not scare or cause your child emotional or psychological harm. It is tricky but it can be done.

Be honest with them. When you are honest with kids, they might get upset, but they will get over things in the end. When you lie to them and they find out, that is when you break the bonds of trust with them which cannot always be repaired. Tell them the truth and have the respect for them that they deserve. Kids are resilient and they have you there to support them.

Try not to make it too upsetting,. Death is sad of course, but it is scary for kids and the more upset they get, the more scared they will be. Explain to them that it will be very sad when someone is ill and they will not get better but they should celebrate the fact that they had a good life.

Everyone should spend as much time with them as possible. Time is precious and it should not be wasted. Get your child to spend some real quality time with the person in question if it is possible; if it is not then explain this to your child if they ask.

Be very clear on terminal illness. Kids jump to all sorts of conclusions and you will need to reassure them that not everyone who gets sick is going to die. Most people do get better and they may need to be reassured of that quite a few times! Explain to them that what this person had was a very complicated illness and they are not going to get it.

When the person in question dies, try to get the child to celebrate their life as much as possible, try take the focus away from mourning but allow them to grieve in their own way.

Explaining terminal illness to a child is not an easy thing to do and it requires sensitivity and tact but it can be done to make the process much easier.