Children, no less than adults, need emotional support and comfort in the face of serious illness or impending death. Professionals and families may, however, find it difficult to accept the fact of a child’ critical or terminal illness or be reluctant to discuss it with the child. Some claim that withholding bad news will protect children from psychological harm; others argue that harm is more likely to result from keeping such information from them when they want it. Failing to communicate with children about what they need or want is likely to increase their feelings of isolation, fear, confusion, and mistrust. Even when information is withheld from them, older children and adolescents are likely to learn about their condition by overhearing others’ conversations, observing changes in their care, or recognizing changes in their bodies. Although they recognize the difficulties, our authors conclude it is important to develop ways to communicate effectively with children and adolescents about their illnesses, to help them articulate their own conceptions of what illness means and to help them cope with events of serious illness in a way that affirms their personal worth. One technique for accomplishing these goals has focused on the use of children’ literature.
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