Breaking bad news to children
Generally parents are the best people to talk about sad news with their children, but if they are unable to do this then a close relative known to the child or a caring adult would be most helpful, although sometimes this difficult task falls to the health professional caring for the person who is dying. Information needs to be sensitively explained as soon as possible so that the children don’t find out inadvertently from someone else or are left for hours anxiously wondering what has happened or trying to make sense of overheard conversations. It is important to try and find out what the children already know or have been told. Ideally a place that is free from disturbance needs to be found with sufficient time set aside to explain what has happened, to answer questions and to offer comfort and reassurance.
The rate at which information is given should be varied according to the children’s level of understanding and open-ended questions can be used to encourage them to respond and ask their own questions. Picking up on particular things the child says and asking them more about what that means to them, helps to ensure the child has understood what had been said. The information given must be truthful and consistent. Children do not need long detailed information, but easy to understand explanations. They need to be able to trust the adults around them.
The following information sheets may be helpful:
- Breaking bad news to children – information for staff
- When an adult is dying or had died – considering children
- Involving children when a parent is not expected to live
- When a parent is not expected to live
- When a sibling is not expected to live