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End of life care

Talking to children about dying

Talking to children about your illness may be one of the hardest things you have to face, but most children will already know something important is happening in the family.

Talking about it provides them with support, rather than leaving them alone with their worries and fears.

Clear language

Use clear, simple language that they can understand. If you are not sure how much they know already, try asking them about any changes they have noticed in you and the way things are in the family.

Talk about what has happened, why it has happened and what is likely to happen next. You don’t need to say everything all at once.

Taking time

Let your children know that you have time to talk to them and answer their questions. Set aside time when you know you won’t be interrupted. By doing this, you can help to create an environment where your children feel safe.

Don’t feel you have to have an answer to everything; children are used to adults saying "I don’t know".

Let them know that even though you are ill, you still love and care for them. If your illness might affect your mood and feelings, you can explain this to them, and tell them that you will always love them. 

Reassurance

Your child may need to know how their life will change and what will stay the same – for example, who will take them to school and pick them up, whether they will still be able to go to football at the weekends and where they will live.

If you feel that you really cannot discuss your illness with your children, perhaps another adult you both trust could talk to them, such as a nurse, doctor, teacher, friend or relative.

Read more about coping with a terminal illness and starting to talk about your illness.

Healthtalk.org has videos and written interviews of people explaining how they talked to their children about their diagnosis of a life-limiting illness.

 

End of life care

Caring for someone with a long-term condition or illness can last weeks, months or years. In this video, a family share their experience of end of life care for their wife and mother.

Media last reviewed: 19/02/2015

Next review due: 19/02/2017

Page last reviewed: 16/09/2014

Next review due: 09/07/2017

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