There are certain topics that parents do their best to avoid bringing up in discussions with their children. Cancer can be difficult enough for an adult to understand, so most kids likely don’t know much about it. Unfortunately, cancer affects millions of Americans every year, and chances are that someone you know may be affected by cancer in some way.
If you are living with cancer, the discussion with your children can be even more difficult. Talking to your kids about cancer will differ for each family depending on how much they already know. If you have children under five years old, spend as much time as you can with them. Use their own language to explain what is happening.
Encourage your young children to show emotion and ask questions about cancer. Let them know that misbehaving is not appropriate, even though kids of this age may change their eating habits or revert to bed wetting to deal with their feelings. Try to find relatives or close friends who can help out and look for books about parents with cancer that are age-appropriate.
If you have kids a bit older who are in school, you should reassure them that they are physically healthy and that they won’t be getting cancer, which is what they tend to think. At that age, even a stomach ache or being tired can make kids think they have cancer once the concept has been introduced to them.
Kids of that age may begin to act out or might become more introverted. They might feel guilty as if the diagnosis is somehow their fault. Reassure them that they have not contributed to the illness in any way. Use more general terms, for example, substitute “doctor” for “oncologist” and “medicine” for “chemotherapy”. Ask your kids to help out a bit more around the house which can keep them busy and make them feel important.
Cancer is no fun for anybody, and making sure your kids have at least a basic understanding of what is going on is important. Children of any age can benefit from just a brief discussion about cancer, even if you don’t currently know anyone with the disease.