The child may imagine that they did something wrong or that they somehow 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 and questions. 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. A child may not trust you if you make promises that you cannot keep. Share your own feelings with the child at a level that the child can understand. Let them know you feel sad or scared or may seem upset about things.
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. You can help children feel more involved by putting together a picture display or story board, or by making cards or crafts for their ill family member.
Last Reviewed: October 26, 2018