Supporting children and teens

When you are caring for someone in their final months, you can support your children or teens by communicating openly with them about the situation and the person’s illness. There are a number of ways that you can support your child or teen during the late stage of dementia and at end of life:

Communicate openly

Support your child or teen by communicating openly with them about the situation and the person’s illness. It’s important not to try to spare children or teens from knowing that a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle is dying; they will sense the truth. Silence or whispered conversations could make them imagine situations that are worse than the reality. Give your child or teen information about what to expect and opportunities to ask questions and to express their feelings. Be as open as possible with whatever questions and emotions that may come up, and answer their questions truthfully in words they understand. Also consider some of the excellent books that are available to help you talk about serious illness and dying with your children.

Involve them in what’s happening

In the final months, continue to include children and teens in activities with the person who is ill, if your child or teen is willing and open to this. Remember to keep visits short for small children. After death, involve your child in family rituals such as the funeral. An older child or teen may want to have a role in the final remembrance activities which could involve gathering and arranging photographs for display or reading a meaningful passage at the funeral. Your child may also want to choose special mementos from the possessions of the person who has died.

"We left my son with his grandfather after his death. That was my son’s first experience of death and we gave him his private time. I’ve always encouraged people to say what they want to say before the person dies or after the person is gone. That’s going to be their last time with the person in the physical sense." – Rachael Mierke, a caregiver in Winnipeg

Include them in your grieving process

As a parent, you may be coping with your own grief at the same time as your child or teen needs support with theirs. Reserve time for your children and consider that they may benefit from being included in your grieving process.

How a parent grieves affects the way a child grieves. Adults who acknowledge and express their feelings and cry with their children help them to accept and understand death. When adults who are sad don’t acknowledge or show their feelings, this may confuse children. Tell your children that you love them as much as ever during your time of grief.

Suggest outlets for their grief

Explain to your child or teen that their thoughts and feelings of grief are normal and that it is okay to cry. Encourage them to express feelings by talking, painting, writing a poem, or playing music. They may enjoy writing or talking about things that they learned from the person, for example, or sharing funny memories.

Keep the school informed

Make sure that your child’s teachers and school counsellors are aware of the illness in your family and consider the possible effects on school or performance in other activities. Try to maintain the child’s usual routine as much as possible.

After the person with dementia dies, help your child with the transition back to school by going over the routine. Let teachers and school counsellors know about the loss your family has experienced. Talk with your child about what they may wish to share with friends or classmates. They may be apprehensive and be tempted to keep the loss secret because it will make them feel different. Encourage your child to talk about their grief with friends or classmates they trust, which creates opportunities for them to be supportive.

Additional resources

Next section: Grief and loss