Talking with Kids About Inheritable Illnesses

Age-by-Age Honesty

Now if your daughter were 8 years old rather than 14, it would be a different situation. With a younger child you'd soften your answer with vague generalities mainly because her mind is not equipped to tackle the impact of the information. At age 14, however, with her mental capacity expanding daily as she moves through adolescence, she's much more capable of grasping, processing, and putting into place the information she's seeking.

Give credit to the health teacher. The teacher asked the question, most likely knowing that some of the kids in class have such family medical histories as yours. She realizes that it's appropriate to her students' age and development to begin to comprehend and emotionally manage the impact -- for good or for bad -- that this information might bring.

Encourage Her to Learn More

As you offer up this information to your daughter, do so with solid information and knowledge. Also, go with her to the library and search the Internet for sound medical information on these diseases. By doing so, you'll be modeling the importance of acquiring factual information rather than relying on myths and anecdotal information.

No parent wants to shatter childhood's innocence with harsh realities, but sometimes it's necessary. Your daughter is old enough, likely smart enough, and emotionally strong enough to mange the truth about her family's medical history.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on, May 2006.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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