Chapter 3: Involving and supporting children

Talking with children

The grief expert says
Andrea Warnick explains the four things all kids need clarified about serious illness and dying. (3:22)Video transcript
I've been there
David, whose wife was killed in a traffic accident, explains how he let his children know that its healthy to show emotion and cry.(3:22)Video transcript

The following are important pointers to keep in mind when talking with children.

  • Always ask parents if you can talk to their children about what’s going on and offer support to them.

  • Let children know their questions are welcome. Answer questions honestly, using clear and simple language.

  • Don’t provide false reassurances. Instead, ask what their understanding is and respond to any misconceptions. 

Conversation Prompts

Is it okay if I speak with your daughter to help her understand what’s happening right now?

You can ask me any questions you have about what’s happening.

What’s your understanding of what’s happening with your mom right now?  

Even though it looks like your daddy is just very tired and sleeping, he’s actually dying. Do you know what that means? When someone dies, it means their body has stopped working and will never work again.

  • If their parents are very upset, you can play an important role by reassuring children this is natural. Children often find it difficult to see their parents upset. Let them know their parents are still able to care for them.


Conversation Prompts

Your mom is very sad right now. It can be hard to see her so upset, but it’s okay. She’s upset because of what’s happening to your dad. She’s still able to take care of you.

See also:
Talking with children about serious illness articleTalking with children and youth about death articleUnderstanding death: Ages and stages articleDon't use the 'D' word: Exploring Myths about children and death article