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?
Disclosing a cancer diagnosis to children is never easy. It is common for parents to wonder whether their children will be better off not knowing about their diagnosis. However, children sense when something is wrong and being honest with your children will help them feel secure and confident that they can trust you. It will also prevent them from coming up with even scarier possibilities.
When disclosing your diagnosis, choose a quiet time when your children are well rested. Prepare what you would like to say beforehand so that you feel comfortable with the language you choose to use. Many parents find it helpful to have this conversation with their spouse or another adult present.
When explaining cancer, use simple and age-appropriate language. Explain your treatment and prepare your children for the changes they can expect. Reassure them that they will continue to be cared for throughout your treatment. Encourage your children to ask questions. If you don’t know an answer to their question, be honest and let them know that you will try to find out.
For more information, please read CancerCare’s publication Helping Children Understand Cancer: Talking to Your Kids about Your Diagnosis.
You may also want to read a story together about cancer and its side effects. The American Cancer Society has several books that can be helpful when explaining cancer to children:
- Our Mom Has Cancer helps children understand and cope with a parent’s cancer (ages 5-12)
- Our Mom Is Getting Better and Our Dad Is Getting Better helps children understand a parent’s special needs when recovering from active treatment (ages 5-12)
- Because Someone I Love Has Cancer offers activities to help children navigate a loved one’s cancer experience (ages 6-12)
KidsCope has a free downloadable comic book called KemoShark that helps explain cancer and chemotherapy to children.
To speak with an oncology social worker for more information and guidance regarding supporting children affected by cancer, call 800-813-HOPE (4673).