Why should my children be told?

Talking to children about your illness can be a very difficult thing to do, and may be upsetting for both you and the child. However, involving children in the situation and letting them know what is happening can be very supportive to them and can help them (and you) to cope better with the illness.

  • A serious illness affects the feelings and emotions of the whole family and a child has a right to know about anything that affects the family.
  • Children can sense when something is wrong, because they are very sensitive to tension and stress. If you try to protect them by saying nothing, they may fear that something even worse is happening.
  • Not talking about your illness may suggest it is a subject too terrible to be discussed, and can make children have an exaggerated fear of illness later on.
  • Children may find out the truth from someone else, or get misleading and frightening information from TV, the internet or other sources.
  • Children can feel isolated if they are not told. They might feel they are not important enough to be included in an issue that affects all the family.
  • Children are good at noticing things but may be mistaken in their interpretation of what they mean. For example: 'Grandad died in hospital. Now Dad has to go into hospital. He is going to die too.' Or 'I was cross with Mummy when she told me to pick up my toys. Then she was ill. Maybe I made her ill.'
  • Children who know the situation can be a comfort to you. You won't need to watch what you say all the time or feel secretive and isolated in your own family. Openness can help all of you to feel closer.
  • Children have an ability to deal with the truth that adults often underestimate. Not knowing things can make them feel anxious. Even very sad truths will be better than the uncertainty of not knowing what is happening. We cannot stop them feeling sad, but if we share our feelings and give them information about what is happening we can support them in their sadness.
  • Dealing with a serious illness in the family can be an opportunity for children to learn about the body, illness, treatment and healing. They can learn about how strong people can be during hard times and how to deal with difficult feelings.