Helping a Child Understand a Parents Cancer Diagnosis
A cancer diagnosis can be rather intimidating for an adult, and the news could be even more overwhelming for their children, depending on how and when it is delivered. Helping a child understand a parent’s cancer diagnosis starts with honesty, but it also involves discussing the matter in a particular way. Discussing cancer in an improper way with adolescents can cause much more anxiety and distress than necessary. These are 5 tips for helping a child understand a parent’s cancer diagnosis.
1. Start by planning your discussion.
Depending on your age(s) of your children, you will need to develop a plan for discussing the matter in an age-appropriate way. Plan the discussion for a period of time in which you know disturbances or interruptions won’t be an issue.
2. Be gentle with younger children.
Of course, you wouldn’t talk about the stock market or the strain of paying bills on time with your young children, so you likely wouldn’t bluntly discuss cancer in a raw fashion with them either. It’s important to keep things simple when explaining a cancer diagnosis to young children. For example, you could begin by explaining that the body consists of many different pieces. One of the pieces inside your body isn’t doing what it should, and the doctor is trying to help make this “piece” normal again.
3. Be more detailed with older children.
Because older children above the age of 8 are more likely to understand a complex discussion, you can be a bit more realistic about your condition. Your older children might want to see photos of cancerous cells, or they might want to know about the types of treatment you’ll undergo.
4. Go over the circumstances of the condition.
When young children sense that something is wrong with one of their parents, they commonly believe that they are the ultimate cause of whatever has happened. Furthermore, they might believe that the condition is contagious (as many common, simple illnesses are). It’s important to reinforce the idea that your children are not to blame for your condition, and that they needn’t worry about the cancer “spreading” from person to person.
5. Encourage questions.
Cancer is a complex disease, and it’s highly likely that your children will have questions. Even if they don’t, you might think of some with a bit of encouragement. The idea is to be open with your children and keep them involved and aware of your health. This way, they are ultimately prepared for events that might happen in the future. For example, if chemotherapy is currently on the table as a possible treatment, you will want to explain this to your children.