How to talk to your kids about a cancer diagnosis
As a parent, you may wonder how to best talk with your children about a diagnosis of cancer. Children can usually sense when something is wrong, even at a young age, so it's best to be honest with them. Here are a few tips:
- Prepare — Have an idea of what you need to say. Ask your partner, friend or other family members to be with you for support.
- Set the tone — How you say it is as important as what you say. Use a calm and reassuring voice. It's OK to show emotion and sadness because it lets your child know that you're also trying your best to cope. They may get upset or walk away, but reassure them that you're there for them when they would like to talk about it more.
- Be age appropriate — Use words that your child will understand. You may need to have separate conversations when talking with younger vs. older children. Older children may want more details that would be difficult for younger children to understand.
- Share details about treatment — It's important to let them know how your treatment may or may not change their daily routine. Explain that you might have side effects during treatment and help them understand why. For example, you may want to explain how chemotherapy can kill normal fast growing cells like hair and that's why you might lose your hair. The most important point is to reassure them that they'll have love and care no matter what happens during treatment.
- Encourage them to express their feelings and ask questions — They may choose to talk to you, their friends, teachers, other family members as well. Keep the lines of communication open so they know that you're open to any questions that they have. Keep your usual routine times together if possible, such as reading before bedtime.
It's important to explain your situation to your children's teachers as well, so that they may understand any behavior changes and assist in communication. Learning that a parent has cancer is an emotional time for children. Each child will deal with the news in a different way. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
For more information about how to connect with an American Cancer Society Navigator in your area, call 800-227-2345 or visit the ACS website (cancer.org). Additional resources you may find helpful include CancerCare (cancercare.org; 800-813-4673) or KidsKonnected (kidskonnected.org; 800-899-2866).