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Talking to Your Child About Their Medical Condition

It can be difficult to know when and how much information to share with your child about their medical conditions, treatments, and prognosis.  It is important to talk with your child’s healthcare team about the best way to approach this and to work together as a team. 

When talking to your child about their kidney condition it is important to provide accurate medical information.  This lessens negative behavior, resulting from fears or fantasies, and helps promote faster recovery postoperatively. Children who are encouraged to ask questions and express concerns and feelings about their upcoming medical procedure are less distressed and spend less time seeking information during the procedure. It is also helpful to address misconceptions before procedures take place.

When talking with your child about their medical conditions or treatment it’s important to:

  • Provide clear, accurate, specific messages.
  • Discuss both what will happen, when it will happen, and why it will happen. 
  • Describe sights, smells, and/or sounds they may experience.
  • Describe things they might feel (i.e. pressure, pinch, cold), but be careful to make no promises about feelings (i.e. “It won’t hurt”).
  • Explanation methods should vary with the child’s age and developmental level. Talk to your child’s healthcare team about this for guidance.
  • Pay attention to the child’s non-verbal cues (i.e. facial expression)

When is the right time to talk to my child about an upcoming procedure?

Determination of what is “too early” or “too late” is the subject of some debate.  Talking to your child too early may be counterproductive as it may cause them to fantasize and worry or be anxious about the upcoming procedure.  On the other hand, discussing with your child too late may not allow enough time for your child to process and mentally prepare for the procedure. 

Here are some general guidelines for timing, but it’s important to note that you know your child best and should talk with your child’s healthcare team about ways to best support your child based on their individual developmental and health needs.    

0 - 2 years Just before event
2 - 7 years No longer than one day prior to the event
7 - 11 years Within one week of the event
11 and up years As soon as the parent knows the event will take place



Last Reviewed: 02/12/2016
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