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Preparing for end of life

How do you prepare a child for a loss?

How do you prepare a child for the loss of someone they love?

When someone in the family has a serious illness, everyone is affected, no matter what. Our first instincts are to protect our children from any pain, but that is often not possible. Knowing when to start to be open with children about the hard reality of a serious illness is very difficult.  

Important points to consider

A very helpful booklet was written by Dr. Laura Clipsham, Palliative Care Consultant at University Hospital of Leicester for LOROS, which raises important points, such as:

  1. By acknowledging that a family member has a serious illness, we can also talk about our own feelings and thoughts about that illness, and help children make sense of what is happening.

  2. The impact on each child is different. For some children, a change within their home life occurs suddenly, but for others this happens more gradually. These changes when they do occur may be emotional, practical or both.

  3. Talking to children about what is happening is like helping them to complete a jigsaw puzzle. The more information you can give them, the clearer and more accurate the picture will be. You don't have to give the information all at once.

  4. It can be hard to explain an illness that isn't visible.

  5. Most families can cope with a serious illness if they can talk about what is happening and how they feel about it, but if changes in your child's behaviour persist or get worse, you may need to think about getting some help.

  6. At home, maintain clear rules and expectations, as this helps children to cope. Try to keep your child's routines and schedules consistent where possible and explain any changes which occur, in advance if possible.

  7. Resilience is the ability to 'bounce back'. Resilient families are more able to deal with the difficulties they may encounter.

  8. When families are affected by serious illness, there are few things which children can influence or change. Choosing whether to visit a family member if they are in a hospital or hospice is something they can have a choice about. It is our role as adults to support them in this decision if the hospital or hospice allow visiting.

  9. A discussion with you, or another adult involved in caring for your child enables the school to put support systems in place for them and helps them understand what may be happening in your child's life outside of school. The changes in a child's life can affect what they 'bring' to school each day. The routines and schedules at school give stability and can help children to feel secure, especially when their family life becomes disrupted by illness. Whilst maintaining a sense of normality is important for many children, making a few adjustments may be key to providing help and support.

  10. It is normal for children to ask questions about death. If we allow ourselves to talk about death, we can give them the information they need to prepare them for a crisis, and help them when they are upset.

For more information and for the booklet 'Supporting children when someone in the family has a serious Illness', visit the LOROS website:

Further useful sources of support


Offers online, text and Skype support to young people (11-25) when someone close to them has a life threatening illness or has died

01989 566 317 or email


Online advice and support service for young people (12-16) who have lost a parent through cancer

Questions children may ask

Talking to children when a loved one is about to die or has died

Child Bereavement UK

National charity providing information, guidance and support when a child is facing a bereavement.


A self help group created to offer support to those bereaved under the age of 50. Their website offers information about talking to children, the practicalities of planning a funeral and managing its aftermath.


Linked to the Child Bereavement Network as part of a campaign to help bereaved children and young people. They believe in the importance of parents making plans in case they die while their children are still young and aim to make society more prepared to talk about parental death. The website provides guidance on things to think about and how to get started.

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