Chapter 3: Involving and supporting children

Support strategies

The palliative care expert says
Kim Widger explains how to support and involve children when someone they care about is seriously ill or dying. (3:22)Video transcript

Ways to provide support 

  • Children benefit from a calm role model. You can serve this role. 
  • Allow children to be upset and express feelings. Avoid saying, “Don’t cry.”

  • If the person is actively dying, ask if there’s anything children want to say, such as “goodbye.”
  • Ask if they’d like to draw a picture or write a note for the person who is dying. If they aren’t comfortable seeing the person themselves, ask if you can bring the note or drawing to them.  

Conversation Prompts

Would you like to draw a picture or write a note for your dad?  

Would you like to bring this picture to your sister or would you like me to? 

Would you like to read your note to your mom or would you like someone else to?

Children at the bedside 

Let children know they can take breaks and leave the room when they want. Identify a responsible adult to accompany them. Some children find it difficult to say they need a break, so setting up a pre-determined signal with their support person can be helpful.

Conversation Prompts

If you feel like you need to leave the room for a break, how about you tug your ear. That will be your sign that you need an adult to come with you for a break.

If the patient is transported

If there’s a chance the person will die during transport or before the children see them again, encourage parents or other caregivers to be honest about this and so provide the children the opportunity to say goodbye. If parents feel unable to have this conversation, ask if you can explain the situation. 

See also: Children at the bedside of a dying family member article