How Do I Tell My Teenager Their Grandparent Is Dying?

Advice to help both you and your child cope with devastating news…

Telling your child that someone they love is dying is one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. There is no right or wrong way to do it but we’re here to offer you suggestions and support. Every family is different and only you can know how and when to tell your teenager. 

When Do I Tell My Child?

It can be difficult to decide when the best time is to tell your teen. You know your child and you’ll be aware of how much experience they have with death and illness, and how well they cope with distressing situations.

Your child may be aware that their grandparent has been ill or have a sense that something is wrong. Upset family members, visits to the hospital, care arrangements… these things don’t often go unnoticed by a child. Your teen may come to you with questions or concerns, and this could be a good time to sit them down and talk about the situation.

How Do I Tell My Child?

The way in which you tell your child depends a lot on their age and their level of understanding about death. What matters is to be honest and straight-forward to avoid any chance they misinterpret what you’re saying.

Talking To Your Teen

Choose a quiet moment when you’re unlikely to be disturbed. It may help you to have someone with you – a partner, family member or a friend – as moral support and to help you answer any questions your teenager might have.

Be patient and take your time. The news may come as a shock to your child and it’s a lot to process. They may be numb, unable to think of anything to say or ask, and that’s OK. Let your child know that they can come to you at any time to ask questions.

When you tell your teenager, be as clear with your words as you can. Use the proper terms of ‘dying’ and ‘death’ rather than ‘going to sleep’ or ‘going to heaven’. These words can sound final and be hard to speak, but it’s important in order to avoid any confusion. Younger teens may think that there is a chance their grandparent could come back when they ‘go to sleep’ or, worse, have fears that when they themselves go to sleep, they may never wake up. It’s very important to make sure they realise the finality of the situation, as hard as it is to say the words, and to check with them that they fully understand.

Hearing Your Teen

It’s important to give your teen the time to respond, to ask questions, to cry, to scream if they want to. Hold their hand, look them in the eyes and let them know you are right there with them. If your teen is angry, let them vent. Anger is a normal reaction to distressing news. Give your teen the time and space they need to unburden their thoughts and feelings and try not to take it personally if they lash out at you.

Loss hits us all differently and there’s no one-size fits all for grief. Teenagers can be particularly sensitive to grief. They’re young adults, in the process of changing from children to grown-ups, and their emotional maturity changes like the wind. They’re at a vulnerable age as they try to make sense of their world and face the challenges and adventures of the adult landscape. It may be that your teen has never experienced loss before now and this is a new experience for them. Whatever the situation, there are ways you can guide and support your teen through grief. Click here to learn more about Grief and Your Teen.

Your Grief

Dealing with your own grief alongside telling your teenager is extremely difficult. You might worry about crying or showing your pain when you talk to your child, but don’t fret. Being strong for your child doesn’t mean bottling up your own grief. Being a strong parent is talking honestly, sharing tears and hugs, and supporting each other. Sharing your own emotions also shows your teen that grief is normal, and that it’s OK to cry and be upset. 

Dealing With Difficult Questions

It’s normal for your teen to be curious about illness and death or what will happen after their grandparent dies. Let your teen know that no subject is too taboo – some things might be difficult for you to talk about but it’s important to be as open as you possibly can be.  

If you feel too overwhelmed or lost for words, this is when it can be helpful to have someone with you to help answer your child’s questions. There may also be questions you don’t have the answer to and that’s completely fine. Be honest and say, “I don’t know the answer to that, I’m sorry” and offer to find out more information if you can rather than bluff a response you may regret later. It’s OK not to have all the answers. None of us do. Click here to find more grief support for your teen: https://ionpadel.com/for-me/family-and-relationships/grief/how-do-i-cope-with-grief/


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