Your children

Talking to your children about your illness can be daunting, and you may want to ask for professional help.

Telling your children

When you’re ready to tell your children that you’re going to die, it is important that you do so in a way they understand. Specialist books can be useful, as you can link what’s happening in the story to what you’re going through. The younger a child is, the longer it will take them to understand what’s happening, so you may have to repeat things several times.

Tips for talking

Giving children information in ‘bite-sized chunks’ as your illness progresses can help them adjust. However, once they realise that you really are going to die soon, children can sometimes think that it must be their fault, and will need to be reassured that this is not the case. 

Here are some ideas that may help you explain what’s happening:

  • Try to use simple language. Phrases like ‘pass away’ or ‘go to sleep’ can confuse of distress children, especially when they are very young and do not fully understand what dying means.
  • Be as honest and open as you can. Even very young children can sense when things are difficult, so explaining and answering their questions can help.
  • Although it can be hard, try to introduce what’s happening to your children as early as you can. This will give them the chance to process the news gradually. 
  • Make the most of opportunities to explain what’s happening. If your children mention something that’s related to your cancer, it could be a good chance to talk about what may happen. 

Asking for help

You might not always know the answers to your children’s questions, and that’s okay. Try asking your CLIC Sargent care professional or a member of your care team for some help if you aren’t sure what to say. Reassure your children that although you don’t know the answer, you will try to find out.

Treasuring your memories

You might like to put together a memory box with your children, which you could fill with special things that are personal to you. This could be your favourite aftershave or perfume, or a book that you read to them when they were young. You could include photographs too, and cards from special occasions, like birthdays or anniversaries.

Reviewed September 2015. Next planned review 2017.