How to Talk to Children When Their Loved One Has Had a Stroke


A stroke is often a life-changing event. Although residual effects vary from person to person, all stroke survivors and their caregivers must find a way to adapt to their new normal. In addition to new therapies, home adaptations, and lifestyle changes, stroke survivors and their support systems also have to figure out how to inform their loved ones of what happened. If one of those loved ones is a child, explaining what a stroke is can seem daunting. But it’s not impossible, and with a couple of tips can be a very rewarding discussion.

Set the stage:

  1. Make sure you are emotionally capable of having the conversation. Young kids need to hear this information from a source of stability and calm.
  2. Take the time to get into details with them, as this conversation may take a while. Rushing it can lead to feelings of anxiety and instability in the child.
  3. Be informed. There will probably be a lot of questions. If you can answer them in a calm, informed way, it will make them feel reassured and confident.

Explain the basics about a  stroke:

  1. Use words they can understand to explain what a stroke is. It may be helpful to say something like, “Blood carries oxygen in the body, but sometimes it gets blocked. When blood can’t get to the brain, that’s called a stroke.”
  2. Tell them what happens when someone has a stroke. For example: “When the brain doesn’t have oxygen, it can make a person’s face look droopy, or make them talk funny, or make it hard for a person to get around.
  3. Tell them what to expect before they visit their loved one for the first time. Tell children what kind of deficits their loved one has experienced, then ask if they have any worries or fears before the visit.

Reassure, reassure, reassure!

  1. Much of this talk will focus on changes; it’s also important to let children know what won’t change. Make sure they know that their family member still loves them, and that the stroke is not because of something they did.
  2. Help them express their feelings through a creative outlet like drawing a get-well card or writing a letter to their loved one.

The most important part about talking to children about strokes is to be sensitive to their level of understanding and respectful of their feelings. Children often surprise us with their intelligence and compassion. With the right level of support, we can prepare children to be informed and empowered parts of their loved ones’ support system.


Written by Laura Tsim RN, BSN, CCRN



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