Q. I've been recently diagnosed and I'm not sure quite how to tell my kids. Is it ever a good idea to not tell them?

A.

Talking to your children about your cancer and how it will affect the family isn’t easy, but it is important and necessary. By talking to your children honestly and helping them express their feelings, you can make it easier for them to feel safe and secure.

Here are my suggestions for talking to your children about cancer:

  • Use understandable, age-appropriate language. Keep in mind that an eight-year-old will understand cancer differently than a teenager.
  • Explain your treatment and any possible changes you may be facing, such as hair loss or being more tired than usual. Reassure them that their needs will be taken care of despite these changes.
  • Let your children ask questions and answer them as accurately as possible. If you don’t know the answer, be honest and tell them you will try to find out.
  • Let your children know that it’s okay to express their feelings, and who they can turn to for support.
  • Write down or practice beforehand what you would like to say to your children; couples may find it helpful to talk to their children together.
  • Choose a quiet time when your children are rested to help make the discussion less stressful.

While the discussion of cancer is serious, it is important to use a calm and reassuring voice with children, even if you become sad while talking. You can help them to see how you are trying to cope, which will help them feel okay with their own feelings about cancer.

You’ll find more tips in CancerCare’s fact sheet, Talking to Your Kids About Your Diagnosis.