Children of all ages are intuitive. The scary part is the unknown. Telling children what you know can go a long way toward minimizing their fears. Include proper names of the disease, such as ‘breast cancer’ or ‘brain tumor.’ The most important component in explaining cancer to children is honesty.
Children at different ages have different needs with respect to information. If you are too vague and say, ‘Mommy is sick and needs medicine,’ they may confuse a cut on their knee or a low grade fever as a sickness like Mom’s. Depending on the age and emotional capacity of the child, find the balance between not enough and too much information.
Use simple, clear language. “I have lung cancer. I’m getting three kinds of treatment: Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. We expect the treatment to work but I will feel unwell for a few months.”
Notice reactions, address concerns, answer questions and demonstrate a willingness to discuss this topic with them. Reassure children their daily routines will remain as normal as possible. Strengthen emotional health with open lines for communication.
If you decide NOT to tell children about a cancer diagnosis:
- You inadvertently endorse secrecy and dishonesty
- You risk anger and resentment, especially if discovered from another source.
- You miss an opportunity to teach a life lesson about what family means.
M.C. Plays Hide & Seek helps to promote dialogue and minimize fear around cancer. Social workers and mental health specialists at hospitals and in private practice can help, too.
You CAN do this! There is a reason for the CAN in CANCER. Have the cancer talk today – Don’t delay. Do you agree? What’s your story? Comment below.
Part 1: The Cancer Talk: Understand Emotions
M.C. Plays Hide & Seek won the Mom’s Choice Gold Award and recommended globally as one of the best books for children about cancer.