Helping Small Children Understand Dementia

Growing up, children have lots of feelings and emotions they are learning to deal with, so seeing a change in a loved one who is living with dementia can be difficult for them to understand and process. Children quickly pick up on cues and secretive behaviour, so while it is natural for a parent or guardian to want to protect their child from this kind of confusing situation, being open and honest will allow them to better understand what dementia is.

Talking to a child about dementia can seem overwhelming, but this doesn’t need to be the case. Chatting to them about why their loved one might act a certain way and how they can help will make them understand the situation better and learn their own ways to cope.

Read on to find out how you can best support your child when a loved one is living with dementia.

How Should I Talk to My Child About Dementia?

It’s important to communicate with your child in an age appropriate way. These kinds of conversations need to be tailored to the age and developmental stage of the child so they can understand what they are being told. Studies have shown that smaller children might be more interested in how their relationship with their loved one is impacted, while older children at school might be more interested in how the brain changes.

However they engage with the conversation, make sure they know that you will be a listening ear if they have any questions or concerns, and let them talk things through with you when they want to.

When Should I Talk to My Child About Dementia?

It is better to be open with your child early on so that they understand why they are seeing changes in how their grandparent, family member or friend usually behaves. Shielding them from the situation can cause distrust and it may be more upsetting for your child to find out about the diagnosis further down the line.

Opening up the lines of communication at an early stage provides support and reassurance for your child. Watching how you and other family members cope with the situation teaches them how they can manage their emotions during sad or tough times.

What Should I Say to My Child When Explaining Dementia?

Before having the conversation with your child, you must first make sure you understand what dementia is yourself and feel prepared to explain it to them, as any uncertainty might cause them some distress.
This condition affects the way the brain works, meaning that it can change the way a person living with dementia interacts and talks, as well as their behaviour and their memory. It affects people differently – for some, their language or speech might change, while others might become short-tempered or less likely to engage in playing games or conversation.

Reassure your child that their loved one is still the same person and provide them with ways they can help communicate with them, such as by sharing memories, stories and feelings.

There are plenty of resources available to help explain dementia to small children in ways and terms they will understand, such as Dementia UK.

What Questions Might My Child Ask About a Loved One Living With Dementia?

Will they get better? 

This is often one of the first questions a child might ask when finding out about dementia. Unfortunately, this condition gradually worsens and there are currently no preventative measures or cure. Explaining this to a child is sad, however it’s important to remember that being open with your child from the start is the best way to manage their feelings.

Will they forget who I am? 

Explain that although those living with dementia may sometimes forget names and faces, voices are easier for them to recognise. Reminiscing and chatting about memories they share is a great way for your child and their loved one to communicate. 

Why are they getting angry?

It can be frustrating for those living with dementia to struggle with things they used to do so easily. This can cause them to become snappy or angry, perhaps even afraid and worried. Again, encourage your child to speak with them and remind them of happy stories so they both feel calm and reassured. 

Why are they acting differently? 

Dementia often makes people confused – perhaps they find it difficult to give the right change when paying for something at the shops, or their words get muddled when they’re trying to speak. While it’s natural for your child to laugh at this change in behaviour, explain that doing so will upset their loved one and advise them to help instead.

Why are they going into a care home? 

It can be rather daunting for a child to see their loved one move from the comfort of a home they are familiar with into a care home. Provide reassurance that the care home is a happy place with people who will look after them and keep them safe.

Bondcare provides specialist care for those living with dementia within a range of our care homes across the country. If you would like to find out more, simply get in touch with our dedicated team today who will be happy to answer any of your questions.