To Your Health: Children and Health Communication
According to Athena du Pre in her book, Communicating about Health, children have different abilities to conceptualize illness based on their stages of development, but illness can be explained to them.
Hello, I’m Dr. Brooke Hildebrand Clubbs at Southeast Missouri State University. Some families may want to leave children out of medical discussions; however, If you try to protect them by saying nothing, they may fear that something even worse is happening.
Athena du Pre suggests talking about illness as something that is a normal occurrence. You may have to go easy on the medical terminology, but you can keep explanations simple, short, and honest by using words like cancer, surgery, stroke, chemotherapy, or heart disease when talking about the illness of a friend or family member. Cleveland Clinic notes that children process information differently and may need to ask you the same questions over and over again. When you do not know the answer, it is okay to tell them that you do not know.
Sometimes communicating with a child about health is as simple as encouraging them to sing “Happy Birthday” as they wash their hands to make sure they wash away germs that could make them sick. Other times, when it is more complicated, such as when children themselves are hospitalized for a surgery or illness, families may need the help of a Child Life Specialist.Child Life Services departments, such as the one at St. Louis Children’s hospital, work on meeting the social and emotional needs of patients and families by developing ways to cope with fear and anxiety.
DuPré, A. (2021). Communicating about health: Current issues and perspectives (6th ed.). Oxford University Press