Tips for Helping Children to Cope When A Family Member Is Ill

Communicate Honestly

  • Understand that everyone in a family will be affected by the life-threatening illness of a family member.
  • Communicate honestly and clearly with children about the diagnosis, using age-appropriate language.
  • Reassure children that they did not cause the illness.
  • When appropriate, explain the treatment and possible side effects to help children anticipate and prepare for these experiences.
  • Before taking a child to the hospital to visit the ill person, talk with the child about what they will see.  Describe the way the person will look and what kind of equipment is being used.
  • If a child can’t or won’t see the ill person, encourage other ways of maintaining contact or communication, such as letter writing, pictures, etc.

Understand Their Feelings

  • Children will have many different feelings – accept and acknowledge their feelings, and help them find safe outlets.
  • Feelings of anger, jealousy, worry, and guilt are common. At times children may seem very self-centered – give them extra attention and reassurance whenever possible.
  • Understand that children may tell us more about their feelings through their behavior than with words. Your child may not know what he or she is feeling, or may not be able to put the feelings into words.Understand that misbehavior may be a response to the stresses created by the illness in the family. Try to address the feelings underlying the behavior while setting appropriate limits on unacceptable behavior.

Limit Unnecessary Changes

  • Maintain normal rules and expectations for behavior; this helps children feel more secure in the midst of confusing changes.
  • Keep routines as normal as possible. Prepare children for any anticipated changes in the family routines and schedules. When routines must be disrupted, offer children choices whenever possible.
  • Find ways for children to help, but be cautious about expecting too much responsibility.

Seek Support

  • Communicate with school personnel and caregivers about the illness in the family, including what the children have been told and how to respond to their questions.
  • Seek out support for yourself and your family. Many people want to help, but don’t know what to do until they’re asked. It’s OK to ask for what you need.
  • Take time for yourself. You are probably being pulled in many different directions, but you will not be able to help your children if you don’t find ways to take a break and “recharge your batteries.”

Please call Ele’s Place if you have any questions about this information.