>Dear Dr. Hackney,
My four year old has a very close relationship with my parents. Recently, my mother has been hospitalized and has a poor prognosis. What do we tell our son about my mother’s situation and about my father being sad and preoccupied during our visits? Is it okay for him to visit grandma in the hospital?
Mother of one, age four years
I am sorry to hear of your mother’s prognosis. The idea is to be as honest as you can with your son without overwhelming him. You might let him know that “Grandma is very sick. She is going into the hospital, and the doctors are trying to make her well.” You might follow this by giving him ample time to ask questions. Try to answer any questions he has without giving too much information. If you avoid answering questions, children often come up with their own answers which can be worse than the truth. If you give too much information, it can add to their worries.
If it is okay with your parents and the hospital, it is fine to take your son to visit. You would do well to fully explain beforehand what he can expect during the visit. Let him know about IVs and other machinery in grandma’s room. Let him know that the nurses check on grandma every once in a while and about the other adults if she shares a room.
It is also fine to let your son know that “Grandpa is sad a lot these days. He really misses grandma not being at home and wants her to get well.” It might be helpful for your child to be able to take some action to help others in this situation. You might ask him if he would like to draw pictures for grandma and grandpa or take flowers to the hospital.
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.