Generally parents or main carers are the best people to talk about sad news with their children, but if they are unable to do this then a close relative or caring adult known to the child would be most helpful.

Sometimes, however, 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 inadvertently find out 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, find a quiet place with the child and an adult they know, and set aside time to explain to the child what has happened, to answer questions and to offer comfort and reassurance.

Children do not need a lot of detailed information, but short, easy to understand explanations. They need to be able to trust the adults around them.

Give honest and consistent information, but which is appropriate to the child’s level of understanding, and ask them open-ended questions such as ‘What do you think is happening to Mummy?’ to encourage them to respond and ask their own questions. Pick up on particular things the child says and ask them about what that means to them.  This can help to ensure the child has understood what had been said.

Children and young people should not be used as interpreters when the family do not use English as a first language.

It is important to ask if the family has any specific religious or cultural beliefs and avoid any assumptions about what matters to them.

See also:

> When someone is not expected to live 

> Telling a child that someone has died 

> Sudden death: including accidents, suicide and homicide

> Looking after yourself