How to Speak to Your Children About Organ Donation

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

During Organ Donation Week, Legal & General (L&G) has partnered with the NHS to encourage families to discuss the importance of organ donation.

Whether it’s telling your loved ones about your own decision or educating the next generation about the choices they can make, it’s good to have an open and honest conversation.

In England, the new ‘opt out’ system was introduced last year, meaning that all adults are now considered willing to be an organ donor when they die, unless they have opted out or are in one of the excluded groups. Even though the law has changed, families will still always be consulted before organ donation goes ahead. For children (under 18 in England, 16 in Scotland) this decision will always rest with the child’s parents.

This Organ Donation Week, L&G wants to help support more families, of all ages, to have a conversation and register their organ donation decisions.

It’s important to remember that these types of conversations can vary depending on family context and children’s development. For example, your child might speak about a lesson at school or when an older teen applies for their driving license, they will be prompted whether they want to register as an organ donor. This could be a great time to ensure they understand the importance of, and facts around, donation. For more information on how to approach these conversations with children, visit here.

Whatever you decide, it is important for you to record your decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register. And whatever your own decision about organ donation, it is vital that you talk to your loved ones – so they can fully understand the decision and can be certain about what you want.

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Having the Conversation

It’s currently estimated that 7,000 people, including 200 children are likely to be in need of a transplant across the UK. Blood, organ, and stem cell donation are now also being taught in schools for Key Stage 3 and 4, but how can parents approach these types of conversations at home?

There’s a whole range of conversations that are important to have with children, that deserve to be dealt with sensitively. L&G partnered with child psychologist Angharad Rudkin to provide some expert comment and insight on having conversations with children on sensitive topics, such as organ donation.

She recommends the following tips on having effective conversations with children:

  1. Pick the right time – Choose a good moment when children aren’t too tired and hungry. Ensure you’re not taking them away from something they really enjoy, as they’ll then be more amenable to listen.
  • Be mindful – As you’re talking, keep checking in with how they’re feeling – try asking ‘is this ok?’, ‘would you like me to stop?’ and ‘how are you feeling?’
  • Schedule conversations If they’re unresponsive or feeling particularly anxious, try discussing and arranging a new time together that would be more appropriate to return to the topic.
  • Be self-aware – Understand that children take in as much from what you do as what you say. If you’re behaving in a calm, relaxed way then your child is more likely to respond in that way too. Don’t judge or criticise, let your child ask whatever question they would like, even if it does make you worry as a parent.
  • Moving on – After the conversation is done, move on to an activity together such as making lunch, going for a walk, or watching a TV programme together. This will ease the transition back to everyday life and reassure the child that life will now go on as usual.

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