33 answers

How to Explain a Terminal Illness to My 5 1/2 Year Old Son

We found out today that my mother in law has cancer. They dont yet know what kind of cancer she has but they found tumors on her skull, lungs, hip & spine. I dont think her outlook is good.

My question is do I try to explain this to my son, & if so how much do I tell him. He has a good relationship with grandma. She is the only grandmother he has, my mother died 15 years ago.

Should I wait till we fond out what her prognosis is & if she has limited time how do I explain this to him. I want him to be prepared if it is the worse case scenario, but I dont want to scare him either.

Any advise would be appreciated

Thank you
L. S

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

First I would like to thank everyone for their responses. It is so nice to have this website to turn to people that are going through what I am going through with my children & family

My husband & I have decided to tell Mikey that grandma is very sick and is in the hospital & may be for a long time. He seemed to accept this & I dont think he understands more than that so we are going to leave it at that.

It has been a crazy week & I have been babysitting for my 5 neices & nephews aas well as my kids while my husband & his sisters stay with their mom when they are not at work. MY 2
1/2 year old had surgery on wednsday to get tubes put in her ears . This is the 2nd time she had this surgery & for the 1st year of her life had hearing loss before the tubes so I have had my hands full.

Thank you again & I will keep you all updated

Featured Answers

My sister in law and family just found out her aunt has cancer and they found a book at Barnes and Noble. It is called When Someone You Love Has Cancer. It is under $10 and is for children. They used this book with their 2 1/2 year old and their 6 year old, they thought is was useful. Hope this helps and I am sorry for what you are going through.

Hi L.,
I would suggest doing some research on this subject that is age appropriate for the level and understanding of a 5 year old. Maybe consult books at the library or a child psychologist. Good Luck
N.

Call the american cancer society. They have books for all and can be a very big help. Good luck have been down this roaad

More Answers

L.,

I am sorry to hear about your mother in law. It must be very hard for you to relive a lot of memories, of your own mother.

Last April my older son Rocky (he would have been 10 in July) passed away. We knew about 6 weeks prior that his time was uncertain. He was in the hospital for 18 days and we were able to bring him home with hospice. My younger son was turning 3 at the time and we answered questions as needed. We also had a lot of medical devices, so that was an opportunity to explain what was happening, like the oxygen helps Rocky breathe better etc, so he would not be scared of it.

If she is in the hospital, there may be a family counselor that can guide you in the right direction. (They offered that to us.) When we brought Rocky home, we had pastoral care and counselors that came to the house. I am not sure what your situation is, but they may be able to point you in the right direction. This is also a good website http://www.hospicenet.org/html/talking.html
This is also an interesting article
http://www3.baylor.edu/~Charles_Kemp/terminal_illness/chi...

Another thing to think about, is that even if you don't talk to your son about what is going on, he may sense something or over hear something. Personally I would tell your son that his grandmother is sick and then as you get more information you can gauge what he is ready for.

If you want to ask me anything, feel free to email me.
Thinking of you and your family.
A.

Hi L.,
I would suggest doing some research on this subject that is age appropriate for the level and understanding of a 5 year old. Maybe consult books at the library or a child psychologist. Good Luck
N.

I would start explaining generally about death now. It's hard for me to tell you how since I don't know if you are religious and, if so, what faith you are. However, we went through this many times since my son was 4 so I can tell you how we did it (we are Catholic). We always built religion in for everything that we wanted our son to do (i.e., when he was 2, we told him that we had to give baby Jesus a gift on his Christmas for his birthday. We told him that baby Jesus didn't have a pacifier and, to give him his pacifiers would be the greatest gift of all. Anyway, by the age of 4, he understood about heaven, angels, the devil, etc. So, when his grandmother got sick, we explained that God needed more angels to watch over all of the new babies begin born and explained how excited we all were that, because Grandma was so special, that he had chosen her. We also told him that Grandma was also excited about it because then she could be with him spiritually 24/7 and she would never have a problem getting to any of his events anymore. After talking this out a few times (short term attention span on a 4 yr old), he finally understood and was very happy & proud for her. This is a hard one to deal with; good luck!

Hello L.,
I am sorry to hear about your mother n law. From experience. I was 7 when my grandmother died and I remember seeing her sick. My mother always told me that it was her time to be with god and this was a way that was ment for her to go. The only thing I did not understand was why did she have to be sick to be with god. My mother kept it that she was sick and it may be time to be with god. Very simple did not go into detail. They had already knew that she did not have long to live before they told me. So as she got worse I was not allowed to see her all the time because my mother did not want me to be traumatized because she looked worse and worse everyday. I was very close with my grandmother she practicely was my second mother and our neighbor. I later on as I got older found out really how she died and etc. I would just make it as simple as possible and if she looks great now and does not show pain...make it the best for him. My grandmother tried her hardest never to show she was sick to me but I knew things were not and never going to be the same.

Good Luck I know it is not going to be easy..Please let us know how things go

Hi L.,
I will keep you and your family in my prayers. You have a tough journey ahead of you. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2004 when my kids were 5 1/2, 3 and 6 months. You can ask the social worker at the hospital for suggestions on how to open the conversation with your children. Follow it up with books as mentioned by many of your responses already. It is true that at this age, details are not necessary. Just give them information as needed at the time--such as things to expect. You can tell them now that grandma went to the doctor, and found out that she is sick. As you get new information, water it down to their level of understanding. Grandma is sick, she may lose her hair/wear a wig, she may get tired a lot, etc. If you get sad news, prepare you child for it. An organization that helped me tremendously is Gilda's Club. Their website is www.gildasclub.org They have locations in Hackensack and Linwood. Check for other locations if either of these are not convenient for you. Read their mission. It is an organization that is open to all touched by cancer--patients, family & friends. All services are free. They have programs specific to children, as well. Keep your head up. Regardless of how bad it may seem at first, cancer is not a death sentence. Wishing you & yours blessings, comfort & strength during this difficult time.

My sister in law and family just found out her aunt has cancer and they found a book at Barnes and Noble. It is called When Someone You Love Has Cancer. It is under $10 and is for children. They used this book with their 2 1/2 year old and their 6 year old, they thought is was useful. Hope this helps and I am sorry for what you are going through.

Hi L., Let me start out by saying how sorry I am about your mother in law's illness. I will keep her and your family in my prayers. My daughter was 3 when my father passed and 4 when my grandmother passed. We knew in both situations that death was going to be the end result. We only gave my daughter limited information, when it was clear from the doctor what was going to happen. I went to the library and believe it or not, there are a lot of books on how to talk to your child about death and dying. Those books saved my sanity. At the end, we told her that Jesus came to see Papa/Gram and told them that if they wanted, they could go live with him in heaven and they wouldn't be sick anymore. They would be healthy and beautiful again and able to do all the things that they love to do. We also told her that Jesus said that they could come and visit us any time we wanted in our dreams. (My daughter is almost 10 and still to this day, at least once a week tells me of the time she spent with her grandparents while she was sleeping). Even if you are not a religous person, I think all little kids believe in Angels and it might help your son to know that Grandma will be a beautiful Angel. My other suggestion would be to call a children's cancer hospital and ask someone there how they talk to the kids with the disease themselves. They might be able to recommend something for you. I hope this helps. Good luck to you and your family.

First let me say I understand what you are going through-my father had lung cancer.

I think you are right about her not having much time cancer in that many locations is past stage 3. saddly there are only 4 stages to cancer. (5 if you count the end)

get out your camcorder and have a party just because and record all the happy memories-this will help in later years.

on what to tell your son, i am not sure. you can tell him gramma is sick on the inside but i dont know how much more he would understand-and wouldnt frighten him. let him know that she loves him everyday.

i hope this helps,
K.

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