Talking to Children
Maintaining both hope and honesty is crucial when helping a child to cope with the life-threatening illness of a close family member. Children need to know enough about what is happening around them to be able to make sense of the experience. Not-knowing is worse than being told even the worst news.
At Winstonâ€™s Wish we know that many people are concerned about talking to children often because of the own worries or fears they themselves are feeling. When someone is so ill, and so up and down in their illness, it is very scarey for everyone. But being able to ask questions and receive open, honest answers will help children to bear the situation.
Often members of the family have different opinions about when and how to involve the children in what is happening. Children will be aware of the tensions. It is impossible to hide the serious illness of a family member from any child â€“ even one who is too young to speak â€“ and children are very clear that they prefer to know what is happening.
At Winstonâ€™s Wish we think of giving painful information like this as a sort of jigsaw. You donâ€™t need to put all the pieces together at once, you build up the picture gradually so that everyone has a chance to absorb the information. Younger children may need only a few pieces to start with. Older children may want them all. Being given some answers often leads to more questions â€“ you may not be able to answer them all and it is quite alright to say so. What is important is that the children feel able to ask the questions, even if it makes you and them feel upset.
Sometimes children cannot bring themselvse to ask the questions that are really troubling them (for example: is mummy so ill because I have been naughty?). It is good to reassure them about things that might be worrying them, even if they havenâ€™t said so. You will not be making them more worried by making guesses.
The way a child responds to information or some of the questions children may ask when they have been given very bad news can seem very selfish and uncaring. This is normal and it is all part of the way children make sense of new and challenging situations. It does not mean that they donâ€™t care, it just means that they are working out what will actually happen to them and the family.
Living with serious illness is exhausting for everyone. It often means that adults are extra grumpy,distracted or frantically busy. And children too may not be at their best. It helps if people acknowledge this and make extra allowances. Everyone is caught up in a terribly painful and difficult time; sometimes everything will feel oddly normal, at other times terrifyingly different. Keeping on talking helps everyone to make sense of what is happening and to find a way of managing it, as an individual and as part of the family.
Winstonâ€™s Wish is the leading provider of information and services for bereaved children. We have 16 years of experience in working with and talking to children about their concerns. To help we have produced a hardcopy booklet called As Big As It gets which is available by calling our national helpline on 08452 03 04 05(open 9-5 Monday to Friday). There is also lots more information on our website www.winstonswish.org.uk/serious illness.
BT Buddies would like to thank Kate Gardener from Winston's Wish for taking the time to write this article for us.
This page was last modified on 20 March 2009 at 21:54.