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Talking with children about illness


In 2012, 37% of Quebec caregivers had at least one child in their care.

In 2012, 37% of Quebec caregivers had at least one child living under their roof and in their charge. When a loved one falls ill, caregivers must learn to balance their new role with their parental duties. It also becomes their responsibility to explain the illness to their children and guide them through its development. Talking about the illness with their child can be a delicate matter, but there are a few things they can do to prepare themselves for this and make the discussion easier


The importance to talk about it

Children pick up on the emotions of the people around them, even if they do not always know the cause of them. Although it's natural to want to protect your child, leaving them out of the situation risks leaving the child feeling worried and excluded. Talking about what is happening will help them feel secure.

A few tips for communicating effectively

Choose the right time

Although the earlier on in the illness the better, it is essential that you feel ready to talk about it with your child. It is also better to avoid talking about it in the evening or at bedtime. Talking about it earlier in the day will give your child time to reflect on what you have said and ask you questions that come to mind over the course of the day. Remember that if you do not feel capable of talking about it, it is perfectly acceptable to ask someone else to be present or to talk about it for you (in your presence).

Keep things simple

  • Explain the situation using simple words, in a concrete way.
  • Avoid giving more explanation than your child asks for, and be frank in your answers. If there is no hope for recovery or improvement, tell your child this.
  • Be honest about your own emotions. If you feel sad, explain to your child why. This will help prevent your child from feeling guilty and encourage your child to express the emotions they are feeling.

Provide follow-up

  • Keep your ears open to your child's reactions, and remind your child that you are there to talk about it if your child feels the need.
  • Inform your child promptly if the care that you are providing to your loved one means a change to the daily routine.
  • When you feel tired or you are less available to your child, do not hesitate to tell your child this, emphasizing that this situation is temporary and is in no way your child’s fault.

Ressources for you and your children

Resources specifically for kids and teens can be found in the Brochures and Publications section of the Alzheimer Society Canada website (scroll down to Kids and teens). 

Parkinson’s Life website features free books, along with tips for talking about the disease with children. 

Alzjunior is a webiste that provides illustrated explanations about Alzheimer's diseases and a comic strip with several episodes on various aspects of the disease. (in French) 

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