3 Steps to talking about cancer with a child
We believe it’s incredibly important to keep an open dialogue about cancer, between adults and children. Often times adults feel, that by not sharing information or how we feel, we are protecting our kids from pain, fear, stress, or guilt. Ultimately, our kids often still end up with the burden of experiencing these feelings, because of the lack of open communication. So how can you address the topic of cancer with your kids?
1. Create a comfortable environment, ask open ended questions and be willing to be vulnerable with your children.
- Many adults don’t understand cancer, so how do we navigate what our kids understand? Ensure they can understand the basics. They are not responsible for what is happening, cancer is not contagious and it is okay to feel a lot of different feelings. Encourage them to talk about their feelings by not pretending yourself, that everything is okay.
2. Be as direct as possible with how you speak. It is okay to say “I don’t know,” when you don’t know the answer to a question. Tell them as much as they want to know about your cancer or their loved one’s cancer.
- Talk about hair loss, side effects, changes in behavior. Even external family members may act differently towards them to show their concern.
- Teens may want to talk to other people about the issue, not wanting to burden their parent/guardian with the emotional stress. Seek community support.
- Like in the example conversation below, provide your child with a realistic but hopeful assessment of what is happening.
Example Parent/ Child Interaction:
“Dad has brain cancer.” – Parent
“What is that?” – Child
“Brain cancer is an illness that will make dad sick for some time and we are not yet sure for how long. We are strong together and can help him through it, by being positive and giving love.” – Parent
- Remember Walk With Sally is here to offer community support. Many children and families need to connect with others who understand what is going on, and it is valuable for a child to receive support and guidance from a mentor who has also been through a cancer experience.
3. Reassure your child that they can ask you questions anytime and that they are not alone. If they wish, encourage them to look to family and friends for help.
- They can talk to other adults in their community, teachers or spiritual leaders for example, to help them cope.
- Participating in school and other fun activities is important to provide another outlet of expression and connection. They can always come home to share with their loved one going through cancer what they’ve experienced.
- Walk With Sally provides a community of understanding through Friendship Activities, which ensure the opportunity for children to see first hand they are not alone.
Do you know a child impacted by cancer? Please connect with Walk With Sally and complete our easy online Referral Form by clicking below!