5 tips to talk to kids about the serious illness of a family member

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Bristi was brought up by her grandmother. They shared a special relationship. Her grandmother was her most trusted adult. When she was 9 years old, her grandmother seemed to be not keeping well. The house full of positive energy suddenly turned to a place where Bristi never wanted to go back after school. All the family members got busy with hospital visits, the concern could be seen in their faces. Bristi’s mom made sure to take care of her daily routine. She was sent to school on time, to the play area of her complex on time, meals on time. Everything was on time, but Bristi’s grade in school detoriorated. Her teacher called her parents for a meeting. The teacher felt that there was a change in Bristi’s behavior  with her friends. The teacher felt that Bristi was not herself.

Aryan is a 6 year old kid. His grandfather had a stroke, and was hospitalized. One day, his grandfather passed away. Aryan’s mother could not share the sad news with him for many days. She feared Aryan will not be able to handle the loss of a dear one from the family. Aryan kept asking more and more about his grandfather. Oneday his mother had to break the news.

The wellbeing of family members plays an important role in the life of kids. Oftentimes, we feel that kids are innocent, they are weak in terms of handling negative emotions. If we’re feeling sad or upset, we feel like hiding our tears so our kids don’t get upset. We tend to shield them away from negativities. The reality is that regardless of how we may try to keep information private and family activities routine, children overhear conversations. However, experts feel that it’s important for kids to see their parents experience normal human emotions, both good and bad. Like Bristi and Aryan’s parents, we often find ourselves or our friends in a state of confusion about how to talk to kids about the serious illness of a family member. Here are my 5-tips:

1. Plan for the talk: There is no right or wrong way to begin such a difficult conversation. You could start by talking about what the doctors have told you. But in a kid appropriate way. You don’t have to go into too much detail and it’s best not to give children too much information. You can gradually build up, giving them small chunks of information over time. For example: “Your granny is not well. She requires hospital visits. You should not disturb her much. Also, mummy would be busy for sometime. So, you need to take care of yourself well. And take care of everyone in the house. Together, we will overcome this tough phase.” Incase of death ” Your grandfather was suffering because of his disease. God has ended his sufferings. He’d be better off at heaven. His memories will be with us. You need to be a good kid” etc.

2. Inform teacher and other care givers: All a kid need to get through a tough phase is “Love”. So its better to mention about the situation at home to his teacher, and other caregivers. This will ensure compassion at school, day care, hobby classes, or while playing with friends. If a kid is emotionally weak already, love and care can help him overcome the negativity.

3. Involve friends and extended family in the care of kids: You can send kids to your friends place, or request an extended family member to spend some quality time. That might involve a tour of the library, a visit to a park or museum, or activities that give them happiness.

4. Keep routines as consistent as possible: Try to maintain daily activities as routine as possible as a kid is used to. In case of anticipated changes,  make them part of the process by giving choices. For example, if you are not able to drive them to school, mention how you are going to manage that. If you are not able to help them with project work, who should they seek support!

5. Spend quality time: Whenever you get time, talk to them. Understand their emotions, their concerns. Sometimes, young kids cannot label their emotions. They may express through actions. So be understanding of their actions. Actively listen to them.

Give children information but also give them time to process it. Observe your child’s reaction and respond honestly, in simple language. If you feel you cannot talk yourself, seek professional help.


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