Preparing children or young people for the expected death of a family member while trying to cope with your own emotional distress can be one of the toughest conversations you will ever have.
Situations and circumstances vary from family to family and we hope the following suggestions may be helpful.
Prepare yourself as much as possible. Practice what you will say with another adult, and think about the questions your children may have.
Being open and honest in an age appropriate way is a good approach to take. Try to avoid being vague or unsure as this may suggest you’re hiding some even worse news. It’s OK to say you don’t know the answers and if it is something medical, tell your children that you’ll find out and let them know.
Your children may be on ‘high alert’ and might overhear things they don’t fully understand. They may then fill in the gaps with their own imagination.
You may find it helpful to have another trusted adult with you – or ask that person to do the talking while you are present.
Choose the right time. Talking at the start of a weekend allows children plenty of time afterwards to be alone or resume their usual activities and routines.
Be open to any responses. Children may not even seem that upset at the time – an emotional response could come hours or even days later. They may have many questions or none at all.
You may have children of different ages and do speak to them all together if possible. This will avoid someone feeling ‘left out’ or thinking that they are not receiving the same information as another sibling. Assure your children that they can speak to you one-to-one at any time, but you wanted to talk to them as a family first.
Let your children know who else you may have spoken to and why, and, particularly with teens, discuss who else in their lives should know, perhaps teachers, friends, other family members or caregivers.