Raising kids is not always as easy as we expect it to be; sometimes there are difficult conversations to be had and there is no way to sugarcoat things. One such event is when someone in the family is terminally ill. A child that has such an illness, or is living with a member who is going through a terminal condition may have several questions. While children are extremely perceptive, not giving them the right answers or trying to downplay the situation can lead to emotional scars and unresolved feelings in the future. If you’re wondering how to talk to your child about terminal illness and what comes with it, this is the blog you need to read. We’re going to take a five-step approach that will help all parents do this with more sensitivity.
- Pick a proper time to give them undivided attention: There are several places and occasions that you can talk to your child about terminal illness, be it theirs or someone else’s, but in the middle of a busy day, a public area, or playtime are not it. Why? This can corner them and drop a truth bomb, where emotional overwhelm is highly probable due to the suddenness of the news. Instead, choose a quiet place where it is just you and your child, so they get your undivided attention. It may be a long chat, so prepare yourself accordingly.
- Break it to them gently by using relatable anecdotes: Heavy medical jargon like cancer, tumors, neuro-oncology, or surgery will not easily register with a youngling. A better approach would be to use anecdotes from simpler situations to create relatability. Once you’re sure they understand the anecdote, begin with connecting the dots.
- Keep things matter of fact but ditch the graphic details: Your explanation of the terminal illness will be watered down, but it doesn’t need to skip out on some truths. Children are more understanding and intelligent than we give them credit for. However, it can be a heart-wrenching decision to disclose such sensitive information to them instead of letting them live in oblivion.
- Answer their questions honestly: There will be a lot of questions, during your talk and in the days to come. Make sure that you speak to them about their queries and curiosity from a place of honesty. For instance, feeding false optimism can do more damage in the long run, so if you’re uncertain about something, tell them that you’re not sure, and will get back to them with a better answer.
- Being empathetic means showing vulnerability: One of the biggest challenges faced by an adult speaking to a child about difficult subjects is the urge to stay strong for the child by hiding your own emotions. However, you displaying your emotions will be more helpful to the child, knowing they are not alone in the way they’re feeling. Talk about your feelings with them to have a strong empathetic bond.
The key is to read their emotions, give them space to process and be present as they navigate through these feelings. We hope that our conversation starter tips help you talk about such conditions and other challenging subjects with your child more sensitively.