Talking about cancer can be difficult for both children and parents. Many children do not want to share their feelings or feel scared to ask questions about the diagnosis. Meanwhile, parents might not know how to talk to their children about their diagnosis, treatment or recurrence.
Our social worker, Katie Anderson, has provided tips on how to talk to children about a parent’s cancer diagnosis.
Tips on talking to children about cancer
Say the word “cancer” directly.
Many parents would prefer to say they are “sick” because of the negative connotation associated with the word “cancer.” However, this can be confusing for children. They might think that a parent may have a contagious illness that they can also catch.
Answer their questions as directly as possible.
If you don’t know, say “I don’t know,” but be sure to encourage questions. Also, maintain an open line of communication so they feel comfortable coming to you about what is on their mind.
Talk about feelings.
Parents should talk about their own feelings and encourage children to share their feelings, no matter what those feelings may be. No feelings are wrong and parents can model expressing feelings appropriately and openly.
Pay attention to any differences in your child’s behavior.
Notice if there are different “acting out” behaviors such as temper tantrums, anger, being overly argumentative, etc. Make any noticeable change an opportunity to learn more about your child and what they are feeling.
Depending on the child’s age, let your child know that it is not his or her fault that a parent has cancer.
Many children can engage in magical thinking or think that they cause different things to happen. It is important to alleviate this as a potential concern especially for a young child who can talk.
Stick to the routine as much as possible.
Children generally derive comfort from routine. So, if a parent needs to be admitted or receive long-term treatments, make sure to stick to a routine as much as possible. Also, it could be helpful to keep with the child some of his or her favorite toys, blankets, stuffed animals, or other comforting objects.
If you would like more information or to speak with our social worker, you can contact her at 713-563-2423.