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Use Child-friendly Language

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Be clear, honest and reassuring. Avoid words that might frighten a child. Here are some good approaches to common questions:

What is Palliative Care?

For kids, going to the doctor is about getting better. If mom has been shifted to palliative care, the focus is on keeping her comfortable, not on ridding her of the disease and that can be very confusing for kids. Help kids understand that the medicines she’s taking won’t help her get better, but are ensuring she’s comfortable and isn’t in pain.

What is Death?
Sesame Street has a sensitive video that clarifies what death actually means . Young Elmo’s uncle has died, and while he recognizes the word, he doesn’t really understand the permanence of it, or realize that he won’t get to see his uncle again.

From Sesame Street’s grief toolkit:
Your child may need concrete explanations of what death is. For example, in a gentle way, you might say, “When a person dies, his or her body stops working. The heart stops beating and the body stops moving, eating, and breathing.” Sometimes, young children may not understand that death is permanent and will ask questions like, “When is Daddy coming back?” or make statements like, “I am going to show Mommy my new picture.” Continue to be concrete in your explanation. Use words like “died” and “dead,” rather than “went to sleep,” “your loss,” or “passed away.” While these phrases may seem gentler, they may also be confusing. Since young children often think literally, they may assume, for instance, that if others look hard enough, a “lost” parent could be found.

This section of the site also has a number of suggestions to enable conversations, connect as a family, and share memories that allow children to move forward.

Michelle LaRoweUse Child-friendly Language