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When a Child is Terminally Ill

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 27 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Terminally Ill Children Dying Kids

There are few things sadder than the loss of a child. Parents look toward the future and envision their children grown and on their own, living happy, healthy lives, but for some families, that dream never becomes a reality. The period between the diagnosis of a terminal illness and a child's death can be wrenching for parents and other family members, who work to not only come to terms with the situation, but to help the child to live as happy an existence as possible for their remaining days.

Talking to the Child

Parents of terminally ill kids wrestle with decisions about how to tell their children that they are seriously ill and may not survive. Often, ailing children have an innate sense that they are dying and look to their parents to confirm what they already know on some level, but voicing the words can be all but impossible for distraught parents. Children deserve honest answers to their questions, but each set of parents must decide for themselves when and how much information to give to their children, based on the child's age, maturity, and desire to know. Some kids want full disclosure, while others are content to simply be kept informed as to current treatment and medication plans. It's also important that parents see that their sick child has more to think about than just their illness, engaging the kids in conversations and activities that are just for fun.

Family Dynamics

When there is more than one child in a family, the illness of one is sure to have a huge impact on the lives of the others. Siblings often have special connections to one another, sharing the activities of everyday life. It is natural that parents will need to focus much of their time and energy on the needs of their dying child, but it is important that the others are not neglected in the process. Families who create environments of openness and encourage their children take active roles in the care of their ailing sibling can help all of their children to come to terms with the situation. Even when parents try to protect their children from the harsh realities of a family crisis, the kids are often aware of the situation, so it is better for parents to include the entire family in discussions, encouraging each member to express their feelings openly and ask any questions that they need to.

Medications and Treatments

Sometimes, the medications and treatments associated with illness can have considerable side effects, so parents should do their best to keep their terminally ill child informed as to what they can expect. Knowing about the possible reactions to drugs and treatments can make them easier to tolerate, especially if the kids also understand what benefits they will reap by subjecting themselves to treatment. Parents must be prepared for the possibility that their child will refuse treatment, and depending on the age and maturity of the child involved, may want to give serious consideration to their child's wishes. Ultimately, parents have the right to choose care plans for their children, but if they are of an age to understand their treatment options, children should be allowed and encouraged to give their input.

Fulfilling Wishes

Just as adults are likely to have unfulfilled goals, children often have hopes of experiencing certain events. As long as they are physically able to do so, terminally ill children should be encouraged to embark on any adventures that they feel a strong desire to experience. Some kids may simply want to take a behind the scenes tour of their local zoo, while others dream of an extravagant family holiday or hope to meet their favourite pop star. There are a number of organisations dedicated to helping to fulfil the wishes of dying children, and parents can contact these groups if they need help in granting their child's last wishes.

Ask any parent and they will tell you that their children bring them countless joys. Parents of terminally ill kids are sure to feel the same, although they may have an even more acute sense of just how precious their children are. Knowing that time is limited is heartbreaking, but parents of terminally ill children can take some comfort in knowing that they have done all that they could to make their children's last weeks and months as meaningful as possible.

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