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The child may imagine that they did something wrong and caused their family member to become ill. You will need to listen closely to what they are telling you to understand how the illness affects them. They may be afraid of being abandoned, unloved, or that they may also become ill.
Be honest with a child. Use words and provide a level of detail that is suited to the child's age. Let the child know that their family member is very sick and that the doctors and nurses are trying hard to make things better. Explain why the child's parents may be away from home for long periods of time, and let the child know that it is not because the child has done anything wrong. Tell them who will care for them in the parent's absence. Keep them informed of any plans or activities. Do not make promises about the ill family members recovery. Share your own feelings with the child at a level they can understand.
Children experience sadness, loss, anger and uncertainty just as adults do, but they may have more difficulty talking about their feelings. Behaviour problems may be a sign that the child is more upset than they appear. These behaviours may decrease if the child is allowed to visit and if the child is encouraged to talk about their feelings. They will need reassurance that the illness is not their fault and frequent reminders that they will continue to be cared for and loved.
Children may be able to express their feelings during play, using dolls or action figures or by drawing pictures.
Last Reviewed: October 23, 2014