How to Talk To Your Child About Their Chronic Illness

A mother holding her child-aged son and comforting him in the doctor's office. The doctor is in the background looking at the boy's medical chart.

A chronic illness is a long-term health condition that lasts for three months or longer. Chronic illnesses can affect people of all ages, and when it comes to children having chronic illnesses, it’s important to approach the conversations with honesty, sensitivity, and understanding. Children rely on their parents for guidance and information, and how these discussions are handled can profoundly impact their journey. A child may not want to talk to anyone but need space to process what they have heard. As they are processing, you can encourage them to talk to God, who is always listening. Below are a few tips on talking to your child about their chronic illness so they can navigate their journey with confidence and support.

Choose the Right Time and Place

Some choose to talk to their child with the doctor at the doctor’s office, while others choose to do it at home, one-on-one. Either way, it’s important to ensure you choose the right time and place for your child and yourself. It is not uncommon for parents to take a few days to process the information themselves before talking with their child, as Chronic Illness affects not only the child, but the whole family.

Regardless of the location, it’s important that your child has a space they can go to, such as a private room or area, if they begin to feel overwhelmed. Additionally, it’s important to ensure your child will have time to process the conversation before they have to go anywhere or do anything with others.

Answer Their Questions and Reassure Them

When you talk to your child about their illness, it’s crucial to let them know they can come to you with any questions. Your child will likely feel scared, overwhelmed, and sometimes even guilty. Many children who get diagnosed with a chronic illness believe that it is somehow their fault – so it’s also important to let them know that this is not their (or anyone’s) fault.

There are some questions you may not have answers to. In those moments, connecting with your faith can be incredibly beneficial and reassuring. Additionally, it’s okay to let them know that you might not have all the answers, but you can work to find them together.

Share Age-Appropriate Information

It’s important that you discuss the illness with your child openly and honestly. The goal is to give them the information they need without overwhelming them, in a way they understand – older children might understand right away, while younger ones may benefit from using examples or metaphors. What you share is up to you, and depends on your child, their illness, and their age. Some parents choose to share things such as:

  • The name of their illness
  • Treatment(s), testing, and medications
  • Symptoms (and potential symptoms)
  • Frequency of doctor’s appointments
  • Any changes they should expect

Remember, it’s important that everyone (who can be) is on the same page regarding what information can be shared. This includes doctors, teachers, and family.

Give Them Resources to Process Their Emotions

Moving forward, take the time to talk with your child after their appointments. When you do, you can ensure they understand everything that happened during the appointment, which can help reduce fear and anxiety.  Additionally, be sure to give them resources to process their emotions, whether it’s one-on-one counseling or support groups for those with chronic illnesses. Remember to take care of yourself, too.

At Spiritual Care Support Ministries, we offer faith-based support groups, one-on-one counseling, and helpful materials for chronic illness support, grief, and all manner of personal loss. Our faith-based counseling is non-denominational and available to anyone who may need it; we meet everyone with empathy and support. For more information about our resources and services, please contact Chaplain Liz at or call us at 540-349-5814.

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