How to tell children

Telling children that you are dying will be confronting and difficult. There is no easy way to approach this conversation, but it is important to let them know what is happening. Like adults, children of all ages need time to prepare for the death of someone close to them.

It’s natural to want to protect children, but children will often sense that something has changed. Not sharing the prognosis can add to their anxiety – and yours.

How you tell your children will depend on their age, but these suggestions may help:

  • It may be easier to have your partner or a support person with you when you have the initial discussion.
  • Be honest with your children and explain the situation using straightforward words, such as ‘dying’ and ‘death’. Avoid terms such as ‘passed away,’ ‘lost’, ‘went to sleep’ or ‘resting’, which can be confusing or alarming for them.
  • Keep your explanations as simple as possible, and be guided by their questions so you don’t offer more information than they may want or can handle.
  • Depending on their age, children may benefit from seeing a counsellor or play therapist.

Read more about talking to kids about cancer. You can also call 13 11 20 for a free copy of the Talking to Kids About Cancer booklet or download it from this page.

This information was last reviewed in January 2017
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