Communication Vignettes: Telling a child that her dad is dying
Traditionally, palliative care emergencies are associated with physical, often reversible, clinical signs (e.g. spinal cord compression and hypercalcaemia). However, palliative care practitioners can sometimes find themselves in a situation where there is an urgent need to communicate with a family member or friend of a terminally ill patient (Pickering and George, 2007). Nurses working in hospitals, care homes and community settings are often involved in end-of-life conversations and thereby play an important role supporting families facing loss (Jeffreys, 2005). There is a paucity of information in the palliative care literature on how to talk to children when a parent is dying. According to Chowns (2009), healthcare professionals are often reluctant to engage in such conversations because:
- The forthcoming death of a parent challenges the perception that childhood is a time of innocence and their instinct is to protect children from painful experiences
- They lack confidence when it comes to relating to a child’s conception of the world
- They worry that talking to a child about death will potentially cause more harm to the child.