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Talking to Your Child About Your Cancer: A Guide

Explaining a cancer diagnosis to a child can be challenging. But it's important to be open and honest about your illness with your kids, especially when they're young. Here are some tips to help. It's normal to feel nervous about telling your child about your diagnosis, but preparing ahead of time can help. Talk to your partner, friends, or family for support and practice what you're going to say. You want to be honest, but also be mindful of your child's age and emotional capacity.

Tip:

Write down what you want to say

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Enlist the help of a counselor if needed

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Think about how your child might react and have a plan in place for how to address their concerns


Picking the right setting can help put your child at ease and make the conversation easier. Choose a quiet, private place where you won't be rushed or interrupted. Make sure you have plenty of time to talk and answer questions.

"Do it in a place where your child feels safe and comfortable. And choose a time when you will be uninterrupted and able to give your child the attention they need."

Explaining Cancer in an Age-Appropriate Way

It's important to use language your child can understand while still being honest about your diagnosis. Tell them that you're sick, but not contagious, and that the doctors are doing everything they can to make you better. Answer their questions clearly and simply.

Managing Your Own Emotions During the Conversation

It's normal to feel overwhelmed or scared about discussing your diagnosis with your child. It's important to acknowledge your own feelings but try to stay calm and reassure your child that you're doing everything you can to get better. If you need to, take breaks during the conversation to collect yourself.

Take deep breaths to stay calm

Offer comfort and physical support with a hug or holding hands

Reassuring Your Child That They're Not to Blame

Children may blame themselves for your cancer diagnosis, or worry that it's their fault. Reassure them that they're not to blame and that your illness is not because of anything they did or didn't do.

Acknowledge their feelings

"I know you might be feeling scared or sad right now"

Be clear that it's not their fault

"It's nobody's fault that I'm sick"

Emphasize your love for them

"I love you and I'm going to do everything I can to get better"

Encouraging Questions and Open Communication

Let your child know that they can ask questions and that you'll be open and honest with them throughout your treatment journey. Encourage them to come to you with any concerns they might have and let them know that they can rely on you for support.

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Use books, videos, or other resources to help your child understand what's happening

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Schedule regular "check-ins" with your child to talk about how they're feeling

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Validate your child's emotions and concerns and let them know that their feelings are important too

Supporting Your Child Throughout Your Treatment Journey

Your child might feel scared or uncertain about your cancer diagnosis and treatment. Be sure to offer them plenty of emotional support and let them know that they're not alone. Discuss changes to your routine and arrange for a support system if you need help.

Support

Action

Friends and Family

Ask for help with meal preparation, rides, and other tasks

School Resources

Notify teachers and the school's guidance counselor, and ask about resources for your child

Counseling

Consider enlisting a therapist or counselor for your child

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