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Penhaligons Friends


Telling The Children

Serious illness within the family can disrupt family life causing emotional, social and financial difficulties. When someone is seriously ill children need:

  • To be given information a bit at a time
  • To have information repeated in words they can understand
  • To be involved in the care of the ill person (if they would like to)
  • To hear words such as cancer and death when used appropriately (adults need to ensure that the child understands these words)
  • To be allowed to ask questions and have them answered honestly
  • To be told what is going to happen
  • To be told how it may affect them
  • To know who will be around to help them
  • To express feelings in words, and through art and play
  • To be given an opportunity to express their anxieties and to receive reassurance where appropriate
  • To spend quality time with their family
  • To be allowed to say goodbye
  • To play and have fun
  • To have a routine

Practical ways to help children when someone close is seriously ill

  • Encourage open communication within the family
  • Encourage the children to talk to someone they trust about what is happening
  • Memory boxes can be used in many ways. When someone is very ill they can prepare a memory box to pass on to their children special memories they have of them
  • Little box of thoughts- This is a series of cards of post-it notes. On each card you write special thoughts such as: – ‘I love you because——-‘, ‘I hope that—‘, ‘Remember when—-‘
  • The ill person can write letters or make videos for the children, telling them how they feel about them. These can be great treasures for the children later and can really help them
  • Children can prepare a goodbye card or gift for the ill person
  • There are books which children can use to express their feelings which can be helpful
  • Encourage the children to ask questions and express their feelings and emotions
  • If the child is scared of the dying process, there may be an opportunity for a professional to offer reassurance and talk about what may happen
  • Reassure your children who will look after them when their special person dies


  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’
  • Try not to make promises that you may be unable to keep
  • Share your feelings openly with the child
  • Inform schools or early years settings so that they can help to support the child