A cancer diagnosis affects your entire family. As difficult as it may be, having an open dialogue with your children about the impact that your cancer will have on your lives can help them cope with their emotions and avoid confusion. It is important to be upfront with your children about your disease, your treatment plan and your prognosis.
10 Tips for Talking to Your Children
1. Talk Simply. Use simple, age appropriate terms to explain your diagnosis. Sometimes, older children will want a more detailed, scientific explanation to help reduce fears or clear up confusion. Younger kids tend to more easily accept the explanation that cancer is making your body sick and doctors are giving you medicine to help make you better.
2. Prepare Them. Explain to them that the medicine the doctors are giving you to help the cancer go away might make you sicker before it makes you better. Go over the possible side effects and physical changes that they may see you experience. Talk about hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and weight loss, as well as emotional reactions like sadness and anger.
3. Answer Questions. Encourage them to ask questions and answer them as honestly as possible. If you don’t know an answer, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know.” Have them help you research answers or offer to ask your doctor on their behalf.
4. Reassure Them. Reassure your children that they cannot “catch” your cancer and that you are not contagious. Some children might feel responsible for their parent’s diagnosis. Explain that nothing they have done, regardless of any thoughts or actions in the past, caused your cancer.
5. Discuss Changes to Routine. Prepare your children for upcoming changes in their day-to-day life. Let them know that you will try to keep their daily routine as close to normal as possible, but that this illness is sometimes unpredictable. Reassure them that even if you won’t be the one making dinner every night or driving them to school, their needs will still be met and they will still be taken care of.
6. Allow Participation. Give your children the opportunity to help you if they want to. While you want to make sure not to over-burden them, it is often gratifying and reassuring for kids to see themselves as helpful when a parent is ill.
7. Touch Base Often. Stay in touch with your children during extended hospital stays. If you are feeling up to it, let them know that they are welcome to visit during specific times.
8. Acknowledge & Validate. Encourage your child to talk to a trusted adult if they want to express their feelings to others. Suggest close friends, family members, teachers or mentors as confidants who will be able to help reassure them. Help validate their feelings by explaining that it is normal to go through many emotions during this time. Explain that being angry, sad or upset is normal, and that nothing that they are feeling is “wrong.”
9. Seek Community Support. Reach out to your doctor or nurse to see about local resources for kids of parents with cancer. Often, social workers, counselors or family therapists are good for helping facilitate the discussion with your children and helping to listen to their concerns.
10. Practice. Try practicing this important conversation with a friend or loved one before talking to your children. Ask them for honest feedback about your tone and the terms you’ve used. This will help better prepare you and help you to be more confident and relaxed when it comes time to talk to your kids.
Above all, continue to show your children love and affection. Reassure them that cancer will not break your family bond or the love you share.
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