10 Ways to Talk With Your Child About Cancer

Mother Child TalkingHaving to tell others about your cancer diagnosis can be very challenging and uncomfortable. Sharing the news with a young child or teenager can be even more difficult. Many patients I talk with are hesitant to tell their children about their diagnosis because they want to protect or shield them from the information. Children can sense that something is wrong and keeping that type of secret can be overwhelming.

Here are ten ways to discuss a cancer diagnosis with your child:

  1. Talk to your children in words that they can understand. Try not to provide young children with too many details as this can be overwhelming for them.
  2. Use the word cancer. This helps to avoid confusion when you talk about other illnesses.
  3. Books are a great tool when talking with children about your diagnosis. For young children (ages 3-5 years-old) use picture books. Some good books include What is Cancer Anyway? by Karen L. Carney and NoWhere Hair: Explains Cancer and Chemo to Your Kids by Sue Glader.
  4. Provide reassurance that they will be taken care of.
  5. Remind children that they did not cause the cancer and cancer is not contagious so they cannot “catch it.”
  6. Give them information about changes within the home. For example, if another family member will pick them up from school instead of you.
  7. Provide children with an explanation of what they may expect as you begin treatment. For example, remind children that you may lose your hair when you start chemotherapy or may have to go into the hospital to get better. Reassurance that this is normal is also important.
  8. Expect questions. Even though you may not know the answer to a question, be honest and say that you do not know. It is important that children know they can ask questions.
  9. Check in with your child about how they are feeling. Some children may get angry, quiet or sad. Remind them that they can talk with you about how they are feeling.
  10. Consider registering your child to participate in the CLIMB support group for youngsters. This group is designed for children ages 6-12 who have a parent or grandparent with a cancer diagnosis. Kids meet with other children who are also experiencing something similar and they are encouraged to talk about their feelings. Contact a Winship Cancer Institute social worker for more details.

It is important to remember that every child responds differently to news of a cancer diagnosis. The disease not only affects the patient but the whole family. If you have concerns about how your child is coping with your diagnosis, consider talking with a counselor at your child’s school, or with a social worker at the Winship Cancer Institute.

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About Joy McCall, LMSW

Joy McCallJoy McCall is a Winship social worker with bone marrow transplant, hematology and gynecologic teams and their patients. She started her professional career at Winship as an intern, working with breast, gynecologic, brain and melanoma cancer patients. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Kennesaw State University and a Master of Social Work from the University of Georgia. As part of her education she completed an internship with the Marcus Institute working on the pediatric feeding unit, and an internship counseling individuals and couples at Families First, supporting families and children facing challenges to build strong family bonds and stability for their future. She had previously worked with individuals with developmental disabilities for over 4 years, providing support to families and caregivers.

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