Chapter 2: Your unique child

Your child's reaction

I've been there
Kelly talks about children's need for life to remain as normal as possible.(3:22)Video transcript

Each of my children reacted so differently when I told them I have incurable cancer. Felix cried. Bridgette was angry. And Marc just withdrew and didn't want to talk about it. We had to support them in very different ways.


How your child reacts to this serious news will depend on personality, history, age and maturity. There is no right or wrong way for your child to react.

Life experience

Some children may already have experienced the death of someone they care about or a cherished pet. How that death happened, and how the child was supported, can influence how they deal with this life-limiting illness or death. The current situation may also bring up feelings of grief from previous deaths and other losses. For others, this will be their first experience of dying and death. Children who grow up on a farm with animals typically understand death at a much younger age. 


For some children, talking about feelings, worries and concerns, is natural. Others process the news without using many words. Some will use play to process this information. Some may immediately express feelings, while others need time to think and their feelings may only come to the surface on occasion. Some immediately start asking questions while others will ask questions slowly after considering the information. Some children will need more reassurance of safety while others will appear to continue on as though nothing has changed.

Reactions can vary widely

  • Crying.
  • Asking questions.
  • Running out of the room.
  • Passively accepting the information.
  • Showing no emotion.
  • Behaving hyperactively. 
  • Avoiding the conversation.
  • Wanting to be with friends.
  • Playing.
  • Being devastated one moment then happily playing the next.

Learn more about children's reactions to grief in Module 3 Supporting a grieving child.