When Someone You Love is Sick: How to Explain Serious Illness to Your Preschooler

When someone you love has a serious illness, it can be hard to focus on anything other than worrying about and taking care of them. When you have young children though, life doesn't stop and, in addition to completing the hundreds of parenting tasks you need to complete every day, you’ll also probably have to have some serious discussions about the situation with your preschooler.

If you find yourself having to find the difficult words to explain that someone you love is seriously ill, check out the tips below.

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Keep your explanation short and focused.

As adults, we often want to know everything we can about our loved one's serious illness. Young children are typically comfortable knowing just the basics. To keep your explanation short, simply tell your child that their loved one is sick, tell them what the illness is, and leave time for any questions they may have. Try something like, “Gabby, your aunt Angie is sick with a disease called cancer. In order for the doctors to take care of her, she’s going to stay at the hospital for a little while.”

Talk about how your loved one's illness will impact your child's life.

Because they lack an understanding of how serious your loved one’s illness is, kids often have the most questions about how your loved one's illness will impact them. Let your child know if you will be traveling or spending a lot of time helping your loved one. Try something like, “Because aunt Angie lives far away, I’m going to take an airplane to see her and help her feel better. While I’m gone your dad will take you to school each day, pick you up every afternoon, and prepare dinner. Once I get back we’ll go back to our regular routine.

Answer your child's questions as they come.

Kids are naturally curious and, when you avoid oversharing, your child may have a lot of questions. When kids ask tough questions, it’s okay to take pause before answering if you need to think about how you want to respond. In general, kids will ask for the information they’re ready for, so do your best to answer only the question your little one asked and avoid oversharing. If they want more information, they’ll ask for it.

Don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance.

If you’re worried about giving your little one not enough or too much information, or you just want some support as you navigate talking to your little one about your loved one's illness, don’t hesitate to seek out some professional guidance.

{ MORE: Mom's Heartbreaking Reminder to Get Family Flu Shots }

Have you had to talk to your child about a loved one with a serious illness? 

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When Someone You Love is Sick: How to Explain Serious Illness to Your Preschooler

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at JuliaPelly.com ... More

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