The impact of terminal illness on a child 2/3

The impact of terminal illness on a child 2/3

As stated in the previous blog, we will look into how to deal with the children’s questions.

When such questions arise, our instinct is to protect the child’s innocence from the world’s evil. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it’s wrong to do so, but everything has its consequences. We twist the truth with, “Mummy is a bit sick right now she’ll get better soon” or, “Daddy is fighting a battle”. Rather than giving them a small piece of truthful information we instil false hope. Saying so, we need to be very careful of what we say, but changing the words around can sometimes lead to a more positive outcome. Also, replying with empathy to their questions rather than shrugging them off with a lie helps even though it is not the whole truth. Studies show that in families where there is open communication and discussion of what is happening, children fare better and experience less anxiety and distress.

Obviously, the concerns of children about what is going on in the family vary with age; meaning that a four year old will have different questions than a twelve year old. Questions vary; younger ones tend to question more what is happening as they still cannot seem to grasp the concept of death. In fact up to five years of age, death is seen as a state of sleep, like for example Snow White. As they grow older, they start to understand that death is inevitable and irreversable. Their thinking starts becoming more abstract and questions deepen – “why my family?” or else “what happens once the family member dies?”. These questions get more complex the older the child is. Therefore different answers are required as one needs to bear in mind the load the child is capable of carrying.


Danica Cassar is a third year psychology student at the University of Malta. Danica is the Triage Manager at Willingness. 


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