Helping a young child cope with a relative’s serious illness

An old friend just died and her daughter said the children will miss her. She shared with them an interest in art and books. Until her eyesight failed, she did wonderful brush paintings of flowers. She enhanced our lives with them. Many grandparents have warm relationships with small children and it will be difficult for a child to lose a loving grandmother or grandfather.

We can help, as parents or close friends, by spending time with a child. Being positive about how brave the child is or how thoughtful he or she was, when grandma was ill, is important; this will help the child get through this difficult time. Reading a book together gives a child an opportunity to ask questions and talk about what worries him.

How many of you parents need help when you are faced with explaining a relative’s serious illness to a small child? It’s an increasingly common problem for many of us. This is why I decided to write a small picture book to help children and their family. It’s not hard to do once you understand how children process information but, it’s sometimes hard to be prepared when a situation like this arises. This is why I think that having a book like Nana, I Miss You  on hand, may help.

As  a pastoral care volunteer with 20 years of hospice experience, I have chatted with a child of a sick relative at times. One story I made up then came back to me as being a real comfort to a small girl who was visiting her grandmother. Just allowing her to sit quietly as I told her a story calmed her fears.

I’d like to offer some insight and the following tips for helping children understand and cope with a loved one’s serious illness:

  • Be positive and available to the child.
  • Discover how to handle a five year old’s needs at such a time.
  • Expect anger and disappointment if the child misses sharing past activities with sick relative.
  • Be honest with children and clear about the outcome.
  • Involve the child in visits to a hospital or hospice.
  • Encourage the child to do something for a  sick relative.
  • Suggest to an interested sick relative how small interactions can show a child love.
  • Read to him/her.
  • Distract him with other activities such as a visit to a park.
  • Parents at a loss for words will find help by sharing this story with children

Below is a comment from Rebecca E. Miller, a Christian writer.

“This is a beautiful, heartfelt story, one that could be of great use to parents who need to prepare young children for the death of an older relative. The use of the butterfly’s development from the caterpillar stage, perfectly layered over the main story to illustrate what is taking place, gives hope and adds interest for the reader.”

Nana, I Miss You is  for ages 4 to 9. It will be available at late April 2012

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