Talking to children about cancer: Supporting your children

Sixth of seven articles in a series on how to talk to your children about cancer.

Finding out that mom or dad has cancer is scary. As much as you want your kids to feel comfortable talking to you about their feelings and questions, they often hesitate to do so. Kids don’t want to see anyone get upset and often won’t bring up things with you for fear of upsetting you.

Let them know they can come to you

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, I strongly encourage you to tell your kids that they can come to you anytime, and even if you do get upset, it isn’t their fault.

They will look to you to figure out how they are supposed to cope with this change in your — and their — life.

If you never let them see your emotions, they may feel like they can’t show you their emotions. Let them know that feeling sad, scared or mad about the cancer is okay, and it is okay to talk about it.

Build them a support network

There may be times that you aren’t available to your kids. Identify alternative support people and encourage your children to talk with them when they can’t talk with you.

Inform your child’s support circle about your diagnosis and how you would like for them to handle questions and concerns that your child may come to them about. People to consider include relatives, family friends, parents of your child’s friends, spiritual leaders, teachers and coaches.

Encourage them to open up

With teenagers, you can assume that they won’t talk with you much about what they are feeling. Encourage them to talk with these alternative support people, as well as with their peers.

It always amazes me at how few children share this type of information with their friends. Often, they want to reserve the time they share with friends for fun things, but they also don’t want to appear different than their friends — your child may be the only one in his or her class that has a sick mommy or daddy.

Consider support groups

There are also support groups for children and teens that have a parent with cancer.

Consider getting your kids and yourself involved with these groups. Being around other people who are going through similar things can be very beneficial.

This post was contributed by Cinda McDonald, a Certified Child Life specialist with the Supportive and Palliative care team at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

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Talking to children about cancer: Supporting your children