It can be devastating for adults to discover that someone in the family has a serious illness. Parents and carers may wish to protect children from knowing about the illness, and its seriousness, for as long as possible. It may be that the person who is ill may be undergoing treatment with the hope that this will improve their condition and adults may think that children do not need to be told anything about the situation.

However, even though adults may try to hide what is going on, it is inevitable that there will be some changes to family life:

  • The adults involved may at times feel stressed, anxious or upset
  • They may not be able to give as much time and attention to the children as usual
  • The children may have to take on a caring role for the person who is ill, or for siblings
  • The person who is ill may change in appearance, or spend time in hospital
  • There may be necessary changes to the normal family routine

It is important to remember that children:

  • Notice changes to their world, whether big or small
  • Can sense when something is wrong and can tell when the adults around them are stressed or upset
  • Are often more able to deal with the truth and painful information than adults think they are
  • May invent their own explanations if they are not given information, which can result in them feeling scared, worried, upset or to blame
  • Often overhear adults’ conversations
  • May hear the information from someone else

Children and young people may react to the serious illness of someone close to them in a variety of ways. There may be changes to their behaviour or mood. Some children will express their worries and show how they are feeling, whereas others will keep their feelings inside.

Parents and carers can help their children to live with the serious illness of someone they love. In our experience, children need:

  • Age appropriate information
  • To be able to express their feelings and concerns
  • The opportunity to ask questions

There are a number of factors which will determine how much information to give children, and when to give it. These include:

  • The child’s age and level of understanding
  • Who it is that has the serious illness, their relationship to the child and the role that they play in the child’s life
  • The nature and stage of the illness
  • The expected level of disruption and change to the child’s life

Parents, carers & professionals can contact Daisy’s Dream for advice on ways to support children who are living with the serious illness of someone close to them. We can:

  • Listen to your concerns about involving the children
  • Talk with you about how children of different ages may be affected
  • Discuss the ways in which you can explain serious illness to children
  • Give information and advice about ways you can support children
  • Give direct support to children, at home or at school, if appropriate

Please call us if you, or someone you know, needs our support.