How do I talk to my children about the fact I’m dying?

Members of our Expert Voices Group draw on their own first-hand experiences to answer one of the most difficult questions that can arise when someone is living with a terminal illness.

It very much depends on the age of your children. I’d suggest getting hold of information about dying that is age-related. There are some really good information publications for children, and websites such as riprap provide help for teenagers whose parents have cancer. It’s vital that schools or colleges are kept informed a child is to be bereaved so they can offer support. It’s also important to answer your child’s questions as truthfully as possible to maintain that trust. With younger children it’s important not to overload them with information, but be ready to answer questions when they’re ready to talk.
Rose Amey, Expert Voices Group member
You need to be honest. They may not completely understand if they are very young. But they do need to know.
Veronica Maclean, Expert Voices Group member
Your situation will be completely specific to you. Things like your current health, prognosis, your child’s age and their understanding all vary tremendously and will affect how you approach the conversation. Professionals should help to establish the facts and talk through things like how long you have left and offer reassurance. It’s always important to ask your children if they have any questions – or anything they’d like to tell you. Listening – on both sides – helps makes sure there aren’t things left unsaid and nobody has any regrets.
Dr Kathy Seddon, Expert Voices Group member
It’s very difficult. It depends on the age of the child and the religious beliefs of your family. If the child is young and there is a belief in some kind of heaven, then that can offer a gentle way of explaining what is going to happen. For older children and young people, it’s best to be honest. They will want to know the facts and might be angry if they later find out they weren’t told the truth.
Jennie Clark, Expert Voices Group member

Find out more about supporting children on our Questions children may ask and Supporting a child when someone dies pages.