How to Explain Hospice to Children

If you are the adult child of a parent heading into hospice care with children of your own, you may find yourself wondering how to explain hospice to your own youngsters. This article is presented to provide you with some basic information about how to explain hospice to your children. In this regard, there are a number of elements of such a discussion to bear in mind:

  • Explain what hospice is to your children
  • Use honesty and be straightforward
  • Use age-appropriate language
  • Saying you don’t know is acceptable
  • Be on guard for misunderstanding
  • Answer questions directly and honestly

Explain What Hospice Is to Your Children

You can base what you tell your children about hospice on the explanation of this type of care provided by the American Cancer Society. Of course, people are in hospice for a variety of reasons, cancer only being one of them.

Hospice care is a special kind of care that focuses on the quality of life for people who are experiencing an advanced, life-limiting illness and their caregivers. Hospice care provides compassionate care and assistance for people in the last phases of incurable disease or condition so that they may live as fully and comfortably as possible.

The hospice philosophy accepts death as the final stage of life: it affirms life but does not try to hasten or postpone death. Hospice care treats the person and symptoms of the disease, rather than treating the disease itself. A team of professionals work together to manage symptoms so that a person’s last days may be spent with dignity and quality, surrounded by their loved ones. Hospice care is also family-centered – it includes the patient and the family in making decisions.

Use Honesty and Be Straightforward

When you discuss hospice with your children, it is important that you be as honest and straightforward as possible. You most definitely do not want to give your children false hopes about the condition and future prospects of their loved one. 

Using honesty and being straightforward doesn’t require you to go into graphic technical detail about what is happening to your own parent or other family member in hospice. (The use of age-appropriate language is an element of this and will be addressed more specifically in a moment.)

Use Age-Appropriate Language

When discussing hospice with your children, you need to take care to use age-appropriate language. While you may want to bring all of your children together at one time to discuss hospice with them, if there are rather significant disparities in ages between them, you may be better served talking to them individually or in smaller groups (depending on how many children you may have.)

Saying You Don’t Know Is Acceptable

If you are like many individuals, involvement with hospice may be a new experience for you as well. As a consequence, odds are rather strong that one or another of your own children may raise a question for which you do not know the answer. Telling your child or children that you do not know the answer to some question is perfectly acceptable.

As long as you really do follow up with your children in such a situation, it is also acceptable and indeed a wise course to tell them you will try and find an answer to their question. The hospice team undoubtedly will have someone who can provide you the information necessary to answer a question for which you did not immediately have a response. 

Be on Guard for Misunderstanding

As you explain hospice to your children, as you explain what is happening in the life of your loved one in hospice, you need to be on guard for any misunderstanding on the part of your offspring. You need to be diligent and direct in addressing any misunderstanding on the part of your children. You begin to accomplish this objective by asking them questions when evidence of misunderstanding appears during your discussion of the situation with them. 

Answer Questions Directly and Honestly

When you are discussing hospice with your children, you need to be prepared and willing to answer any questions they may have at that time. You also need to bear in mind that it is very likely that they will have more questions in the future. Additional questions are very likely to rise after your children spend time at hospice. The point in all of this is that you need to make sure that you remain available to provide them answers to any questions they may have about hospice in the future, including the state of their loved one’s health.

By using the points set forth in this article, you will put yourself in a position of making hospice more understandable to your children. You will also make the end of life of your own parent or other family member more tenable and meaningful for your own children.