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The diagnosis of a serious illness and subsequent treatment process can be a frightening and difficult time for any patient and their family.
For families with young children or teenagers there are additional concerns about how children will re-act to being told and how they will cope with the changes the illness will bring into their lives.
We hope that the following information will help you start those difficult but important conversations. This leaflet is for parents, carers and family members dealing with a serious illness.
Children who are not given the opportunity to talk about things openly may:
Trying to protect children from things that will hurt them is natural. However, children of all ages often know more about what is happening than adults realise.
It is important to give your child the chance to talk openly about their fears and worries. It shows you trust them and it helps them to understand that it is alright to have feelings of anger, fear, sadness and hope when a person they are close to is seriously ill.
You may be struggling with the news yourself but not explaining what is happening may make your child feel even more vulnerable. You may find that by giving yourself a chance to get used to the news before you begin to talk to your children may help.
There is no right or wrong time or way to do it. As a parent, you are the expert when it comes to your child: you understand how to communicate with them, how they might react and what support they may need.
Some children may prefer to discuss things while you are driving, gardening, on the way to school or while they are in the bath. Don’t be surprised if after being told some children ask no questions at all!
Children need reassurance that:
How children might react to the news that someone is ill will vary greatly according to their age and/or development. They may be distressed or angry. They may not seem to react at all and ask ‘what`s for tea’ or ‘can I go out to play?’
This doesn’t mean that they don’t care. When children feel overwhelmed they instinctively try to protect themselves by withdrawing from emotion. They will need time to understand the information.
We have added several useful websites at the end of the leaflet where you will find information about possible reactions at different stages of a child`s development and recommended books for all age groups.
Try to remember that super parents/carers do not exist. You are doing the very best that you can. You can`t support others if you are overwhelmed yourself. Make sure that you call on any help available from family and friends.
Access support offered to you by Health Professionals. You do not have to do this on your own. If you have been assigned a Nurse Specialist, talk to them.
But most importantly, you are doing the one thing that will help and that is involving the children.
There is no right or wrong way to access helpful information.
Please see below just a small selection of recommended websites/apps. There are many more. By looking around you can find the right information for you.
The information in this leaflet is for guidance purposes only and is in no way intended to replace professional clinical advice by a qualified practitioner.
Publication Date: October 2021
Review Date: July 2024