Cancer doesn’t just affect the patient. It is a diagnosis that touches an entire family. A concern for many patients is how to have “the cancer talk” with children and explain in a way that makes them feel informed, yet safe. It’s almost like walking a tightrope, having to find the right balance so your kids don’t worry. If its someone who your child is close to like a grandparent, a friend or even yourself it is recommended talking to your child as early as possible.
Other friends and family make a good sounding board for ideas and information to approach your child with when dealing with having “the cancer talk” with them.
Each family is different, and many go through having to make the decision to have the talk or not. The most important step is deciding what to do, and how to go from there. Children, no matter how young or old will recognize when something is wrong, and may sometimes think the worst if not informed correctly. Children can jump to conclusions just like adults do, but for them it is harder to understand because they haven’t had the life experience to fully understand what cancer is and the different treatment options.
Another reason to talk to your kids first is they may hear about your diagnosis through a 3rd party, or by overhearing a conversation. By making sure you are the first person to share the news, children are much more comfortable and hopeful.
Nothing is ever perfect, and talking to your kids doesn’t have to be either. You don’t have to have all the answers at once, and you can look at this experience as one talk out of many. Give your children key information and if you don’t know, it’s ok to verbalize that. A simple way to approach not knowing something is a simple “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for the both of us.” Children will accept this answer, but remember – follow up and actually find out the answer to their questions.
Give your children time to absorb this news, and help your family fight cancer together. Being informed is half the battle, and telling your children gives them another reason to trust you, understand how you are coping and lessens the strain on yourself and your family.
For more information on how to best approach your children check out the resources below.
CancerCare for Kids – This nonprofit offers free support and education for people affected by cancer. They also have a great guide with 10 quick tips for how to talk to your kids about a cancer diagnosis.
Kimmie Cares – This site has the tools you may need to take the pressure off of parents to explain cancer to very young children. Books, like “Mommy and Me”, explain what cancer is and how it might affect the family. Dolls show the changes in appearance that can happen during cancer treatment.