Your kids are the most precious thing in the world to you, and you want to protect them at all costs. That’s normal when you’re a parent. However, you can’t always protect your kids from information that could potentially upset them - such as when a family member is sick. Being open and honest with your kids is important, and teaches them about the standard of communication you expect for the future. If you’re not honest with your kids early on, then how are they ever going to learn that they can come to you when they are worried, sad, or have something going on that you don’t know about?
This doesn’t mean becoming your child’s ‘best friend’ or that they are your ‘rock’. This can actually be bad for kids, as the lines between parent and friend become blurred, and they feel under a lot of pressure to help you feel better - they feel responsible for your sadness, and this can hinder them in so many ways growing up.
You can still find the line between friend and parent, all while developing an open and honest line of communication. You can’t protect your kids from the world, so the least you can do is try to prepare them for it. Let’s take a look at what to tell your kids when a family member is sick:
Planning For The Conversation
If your child has verbal skills, there are ways you can communicate about the illness. Your child will trust that adults will give them the information they need. If you don’t, then they deal with fear and uncertainty - which can sometimes be worse than knowing the truth. Being honest with your child allows them to work through their own feelings, feel included, and feel safe asking questions.
When you plan for your conversation, here are some pointers:
Plan for morning - night time doesn’t give your child much of an opportunity to ask questions, and could keep them awake.
Plan for at home on the sofa - in the car doesn’t give them the right environment to feel secure and protected.
Be aware of your tone and body language
Keep the explanation simple if the child is young - ‘we are sad because X is sick. They have something called X. We are visiting the doctor so we can learn more about X and how to look after X’.
Remember, if optimism is realistic, then that will be reassuring for your child. You can tell than about treatment too, such as radiation therapy - kids are a lot smarter than you think. Just be sure to take your child’s age and maturity level into account.
Kids will deal with the news you have given them differently. Some will accept it, others will be anxious and ask a lot of questions. Ask questions about their thoughts and feelings if they have not verbalized them to you. You can also:
Validate their feelings - never tell them not to be ‘silly’.
Find ways your child can help - pushing a wheelchair, buying snacks and flowers, drawing pictures.
Allow visiting if appropriate.
Keep routines as consistent as possible.
This will be a challenging time for your family, but by taking these steps you should alleviate your child’s fears, validate their feelings, and send the message that they are important, respected members of the family.
CANDY TAI is a wife to David and mom of 5 with a degree in Communications. She's a native Texan (Hook 'Em Horns!) who's been making her home in the Kansas City metro area for nearly 15 years. She loves being able to shuffle her kids from their various sports activities, piano lessons, and school activities. She enjoys fashion, beauty, reality TV, and moviegoing.