Helping Your Child Cope with a Sick Loved One

Itika Gupta
3 months ago
Helping Your Child Cope with a Sick Loved One

Life is transient, this is an inescapable fact. Sometimes life hits us hard by events, be it death, illness, financial issues or some other complication. But that’s all part of life. Good and bad situations are the characteristics of our life. Therefore, instead of hiding, shrieking or cribbing at the bad, one has to accept it. This makes it easier to tackle the situation. Children are very keen observers; they pick up more than we realize. Therefore, hiding the prevailing conditions from them is not the right decision. Rather try finding an effective way to break the news to them. When a family member is diagnosed with an illness, life takes a difficult turn and each one in the family struggles to steady themselves. Difficult conversations need to be had.

Major health issues affecting loved ones

Can this remain hidden from children? When kids do not have a clear view about something, they end up imagining stuff, making it worse than the current situation. Though it leads to a challenging conversation for the family members but telling kids about it helps in the long run. But what can really be done?

Kid breaking down in the hospital


Talk to your kids

Communicating is the one and only effective way to avoid problems, confusions, and misunderstandings. Talking not only calms the person but it leads to a solution for every situation. But the question is who will talk and when to tell? There is always a member in the family who is close to the kids, be it the grandparents, uncle/aunt or elder siblings. Children tend to remain open to them, trust them and understand them better. It is the best way to break the news about the illness to them. It’s not possible for the doctors or health care team to help in this. But stay close to them during this conversation. They may feel better and be able to analyse the circumstances.

Child being comforted by the parent

Talk to them when you are sure about the illness. Once the reports are out and there is a plan for diagnosis and treatment procedure, try initiating a conversation with the kids. Practice it in front of other members or take help from the doctors and then tell the children about it. Try to read the mindset of kids beforehand and then analyse the right time to burst the news. Give them your undivided attention, no doubt this may take time, but it will eventually help them cope up with the illness.

Family visiting patients in the hospital


How to tell them?

It’s better to break it down in steps. Unveil the facts one by one and slowly. Give them time to grasp this change. They are curious and worried at the same time. They may ask questions such as “will it go away?”, “will the person die?”, “who will take care of me?” and more. Be prepared with all kind of answers. Polite use of simple words can help them understand the situation in a better way. Be honest with them. That does not mean giving them every single detail, but to give them an idea as to what all things can happen. For instance, hair and weight loss from chemotherapy; or some form of disability or loss of mobility after going through a major surgery or operation. Instead of confusing them or hiding useful information, keep your conversations straightforward. If you are overwhelmed or worried, let the kids know about it. Make them realize that it’s okay to feel so because you genuinely love that person. This gives children stable emotional support. In the future, they will be able to immediately come to you and express their emotion.

Child supporting family member after chemotherapy


Involvement of kids in taking care of the patient

Simply revealing the facts won’t help children. Their involvement with the activities related to an ill person can help them adapt more efficiently. Younger kids especially like to feel important and a part of things. There will be many changes happening, be it modification in treatment, overnight stays at the hospital or leaving work. Children should have a basic insight about all of this. Invite the kids to take care of the patient.

Girl taking care of her hospitalised family member

Initially, they may be scared of visiting hospitals or touching them but once it becomes a habit, they won’t feel panicky. Start with small tasks: asking them to bring water, reading out stories to the patient, combing their hair, etc. Remain optimistic and give kids daily tasks to perform. Try to brainstorm with them positive aspects of every situation. Their involvement in these small activities will make them aware that illness and death are part of one’s life and how one should react in these situations. Make them listen to the conversations with the doctors. Keep on providing them with updates. But the most important thing is to understand the child’s mentality. Are they really interested in helping them? Do they want answers to their questions? Though it’s difficult but try spending some time with them on a daily basis. Listen to what they have to say. Before talking to them keep their reactions in your mind. Because different kids react differently to the situation. Depending on their mindset it’s better to talk to them in a way they’d like to listen to.

Doctors giving the family news


Explaining the concept of Death

Children may start asking questions regarding death and illness when they see a close one diagnosed with some disease but it would be better if you make them aware of this bitter truth beforehand. Death is the eventual fate but we deny accepting the fact. When talking about death, use simple and clear words. Pause in between and give them time to grasp your words. Make them comfortable while talking and give them examples, instances of death and how your loved ones reacted. Tell them what changes the death of a loved one can bring into our lives. Talking about funerals and rituals to them is another option to create awareness. Respond to their emotions with comfort and reassurance. Let the conversation go on for as long as required and don’t let any of their questions go unanswered. This will prevent the building up of false assumptions or beliefs in their head. Talk to them about it frequently, take their opinions and prove your statements with examples.

Kid waiting in the hospital


Every family feels differently about how and what to share about their loved one’s illness to their kids, however it is really important to remain honest with your kids and give them insights about the illness. Helping children deal with a family member’s illness can be no doubt a challenging task but eventually involving them during this tenure can help them shed their fears and understand the facts about life and death.


This article has been reviewed by our panel. The points, views and suggestions put forth in this article have been expressed keeping the best interests of fellow parents in mind. We hope you found the article beneficial.
• covid-19
• life
• coronavirus
• sickness
• death
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