Having conversations with children about cancer are never easy. That’s why for some families, cancer becomes the elephant in the room. Some parents choose not to speak about their diagnosis because they are concerned that these conversations will have a negative impact on their children. However, research shows that children who are given honest information in age appropriate language do much better in the long run. Children who are not given truthful information about a parent’s illness often experience anxiety, trust issues and behavioural problems can surface in adolescence and adulthood.
There are four common things that children often worry about when their mom has cancer.
- Did I cause it?
- Can I catch it?
- Can I cure it?
- Who is going to take care of me if mom dies?
These simple questions can easily be answered but they require open dialogue with the child and a sense of trust and security. Remember, it’s alright not to have all of the answers to the questions your children pose to you. They will understand.
Below is some information you should consider when deciding how to discuss your diagnosis with your children.
Children Ages 2 and under:
- Are attuned to changes in their routine and separation from their mother.
- May not grasp the details of the illness however, the earlier they are able to name it as cancer, the better equipped they will be throughout your treatment and recovery.
If you are recovering from surgery or have limited mobility because of treatments, maintain proximity to your child so that he or she can still hear your voice so that you can reassure them.
Children Ages 3-5:
- Have a basic understanding of what it means to be sick but may not understand what cancer is.
- They often imagine the worst if they are not given an opportunity to talk about their feelings.
It is important to explain what cancer is in simple terms and assure the child that they didn’t do anything to cause it.
Children Ages 6-12:
- Can understand more complex explanations of cancer.
- They often believe what other children tell them. So, it is important to answer their questions truthfully to prevent misinformation.
It is important to reassure them that cancer is not contagious.
Children Ages 13-18:
- Are beginning to think and act like adults and will understand more complexities about your diagnosis.
- They may become angry, anxious, rebellious, or insecure. So, it is important to encourage your child to be open about their feelings.
Let them know that it is okay for them to be happy or have fun throughout your treatment. This will help maintain consistency and keep them engaged in activities they enjoy.
At the Nanny Angel Network (now Nankind) we have developed resources to help parents have conversations about cancer with their children of all ages. In addition, our Nanny Angels follow the parents’ lead when it comes to what they share with children and what language they use. Our Nanny Angels are always prepared to openly and honestly communicate with the children they care for, creating safe spaces where children feel comfortable opening up and discussing their emotions and ask difficult questions. This in turn allows us to positively impact the long-term emotional and psychological development of these children.
If you are currently receiving service from NAN and would like to speak with your children about cancer, and you are not sure where to begin, please speak with your Nanny Angel. They will be able to help you.