When a parent is critically ill, finding the right words to say to a child can be difficult. With the assistance of these professionals, you and your children can successfully navigate a tough period. Here are some good tips on where to start.

When a loved one is sick, what should you tell a child? Do you talk about death or the potential of death at any time in your life? Here’s what health care providers who specialize in helping families cope with serious health issues have to say.

How to Discuss a Family Member’s Illness with Children

In the beginning, the most common question I’m asked is whether or not I should tell my children about my illness. Well, honesty is the wisest course of action.

When a parent is critically ill, no matter their age, kids pick up on all kinds of subtle indications that parents and caregivers think they are disguising, such as whispered talks, telemedicine appointments, red eyes, and increased visits to the house. Without information, people tend to invent stories about what’s going on around them, which can be even scarier than the truth itself. Anxiety is reduced when children are given factual and age-appropriate information about their loved ones’ situations.

You can’t say the same thing to a 6-year-old and a 16-year-old. Although young children may not always be able to comprehend the specifics of a disease, they are capable of recognizing that a loved one is ill and that it is impacting their family. 

Toddlers and first graders are concrete thinkers, so our explanations must be clear and concise. Always refer to the ailment by its name, such as cancer, and explain what it is and where it is found. This age group is curious about how their loved one’s disease will affect them. In the beginning, please don’t take it as a sign that they don’t care about you.

Older children will likely have a more nuanced perspective on disease and be able to raise more profound concerns. Make sure you don’t shy away from terms like cardiologist and oncologist. Make sure they know it’s fine if they have no inquiries or do not want to know all the information. Teens are more inclined than parents to seek advice from their friends.

Medical Appointments

When a parent is critically ill, both adults and children alike can find hospitals frightening. Because of COVID regulations, many parents worry about whether or not visiting a loved one may hurt their child’s psyche.

I believe that being able to visit a parent in the hospital can be quite beneficial. In many cases, it makes a world of difference for children to view the setting in which their loved one is being cared for and interact with the individuals who are doing so.

In order to help the children of adult patients cope with a loved one’s serious sickness, hospitals employ child life specialists who deal specifically with children of adult patients in trauma and ICU wards to long-term hospitalizations. They are there to help your children prepare for what they will see in the hospital. Request assistance at the front desk or a nurse if you aren’t sure who you should contact. Recognizing what to expect can help children cope better with life’s challenges.

In the event that your child is unable to accompany you to the hospital, there are still ways to build a strong relationship with your child. In addition to texting and calling, parents can now use video calls. The patient can record messages or the child’s favorite book to read at night for younger children. Alternatively, children can paint words on a hospital sheet that the nurse drapes over their loved ones as a virtual embrace.

Assisting Others in End-of-Life Discussions

At this point, death or a loved one’s death must be spoken or communicated to a parent. According to the experts, these are difficult conversations, and it’s okay if you have difficulty. When a youngster sees you cry, it teaches them that it’s okay to cry, too. 

Comprehension of death and dying becomes more nuanced as one grows older, just as one’s understanding of illness does. You’ll use language that’s appropriate for the age of the youngster you’re speaking to. The euphemisms passed away, gone to sleep, or ‘we lost your grandma’ should be avoided.

Young children may not comprehend what you’re saying and may become quite agitated as a result of this. Saying someone has fallen asleep may cause them to worry that the same thing could happen to them when they are asleep. Correcting misunderstandings as soon as they arise is also important. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for children to blame themselves for a person’s illness or death.

Providing Compassionate Care for Children During This Tough Time

As far as behavioral and emotional responses go, there is no such thing as a “grieving child.” When it comes to dealing with sadness, there is no set timetable. It will change over time.

Some warning signals indicate the likelihood that your child requires professional mental health care, although grief portrays itself in different ways for different people. 

Children with preexisting risk factors, such as anxiety and sadness or a lack of social support, should be closely monitored. Observe long-term behavioral changes, such as when a youngster loses interest in activities they once found enjoyable. Or they’ve stopped hanging out with their pals, refused to go to school, or are having trouble sleeping at night, etc.

Even if someone is talking about injuring themselves, it is important to confront it immediately. You should always have a second set of eyes on your child because they may not always open up to their parents, especially if the parents are dealing with their own grief at the time. Adults in the child’s life, such as aunts and uncles, a teacher, a coach, a school psychologist, or anybody else, can serve this role.

With your loving support, your children will get through this difficult period.

Related article: The Best Ways to Talk to Children About Sad News Events

These are just some ways you can consider when a parent is critically ill and how to talk to your child about it.