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Encouraging/Supporting Dying Parents to Talk to Their Children
  1. Steve Marshall,
  2. Julia Manning,
  3. Sally Mercer
  1. Steve Marshall and Julia Manning, Principal Social Workers, St Christopher’s Hospice, London, and Sally Mercer, Social Work Student, Goldsmiths College, University of London. Email: s.marshall{at}


Communicating with children about the anticipated death of a parent can be very challenging, even for experienced palliative care professionals. It can be particularly difficult for dying parents to discuss the fact that they are dying with their children. Consequently, they may adopt an overly positive stance in order to shield their children from the truth. When unable to understand what is happening within their family, children can blame themselves for the parent’s illness. Open and honest communication, even with very young children, can lead to beneficial outcomes in terms of bereavement. As parents know their children best, it is preferable for the parents to explain the situation themselves; however, dying parents often require support from healthcare professionals in order to begin this difficult process. This article provides an overview of the main factors for nurses and other health professionals to consider when supporting dying parents to communicate with their children. It aims to improve the confidence of practitioners in relation to encouraging dying parents to undertake such difficult conversations. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Children
  • Communication
  • Death and dying
  • Parental death

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