Whether children need to be told about cancer within their own family or whether parents want to discuss the issue in general, cancer is a topic that should be approached carefully with children.
Tell Children Only What They Want to Know
Adults sometimes have a habit of telling children far more information that the child wants to know. Therefore, tell a child the basics of the situation and ask them if they have any questions. Children will usually ask questions that are much easier to answer than adults think.
Very small children only need to be told that there is a body part that isn’t working correctly. It may help to have a diagram of the body to help facilitate questions with small children. Older children can be told more. They may want to read information on the type of cancer and will want to be an informed of the treatment.
Tell Children about Cancer in Ways they can Understand
In addition to talking with children, it can be helpful to buy them a book that explains cancer in terms which children can understand. One such book named “Nana, What’s Cancer?” written by cancer survivor Beverlye Hyman Fead, is distributed by the American Cancer Society. The ACS also has many helpful resources on their website at Cancer.org.
Discuss Cancer Openly with Children – But Take it One Step at a Time
Don’t treat cancer as a taboo. Be honest with children about what is going on.
If the adults in the family can’t deal with it, how can children be expected to deal with it. Create an environment where it is okay for a child to hear the word cancer. It’s important to remember that children take their cues from their parents.
If the person with cancer is in the very early stages, then simply discuss that part of the diagnosis or treatment with the child. For example, say that “Mommy or Daddy may not feel well on Wednesdays after their medicine.” There is no need to tell small children about survival rates or death until those issues are imminent.
Allow Children to Express Feelings in Their Own Way
Small children may prefer drawing a picture to express their feelings. It may be beneficial to have the children draw pictures every day. This is an easy way to gauge how a child is adjusting to the situation.
Other children, especially older ones, may want to help out around the house more to help the ailing person feel better. The adults in the household can assist children by providing age appropriate tasks for the children to do.
Tell Children How Cancer will Impact their lives
Cancer causes many disruptions in family life that will impact children. However, it’s important for parents to minimize the disruptions as much as possible by arranging for assistance from loved ones.
Notify children of these changes in advance so that they will feel more secure. Tell children that Grandma or Grandpa will begin picking them up from school or that Aunt Judy will be preparing dinner for a few months. Alerting children to these small changes in advance helps them deal with bigger changes that may occur later on.