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Talking to children about cancer: What do kids worry about?

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

When children find out that mom or dad is sick, they usually have a few big worries. As you start to have conversations with your child about your cancer, you can expect to hear these three questions.

Is the cancer my fault?

First of all, they worry that they may have done, said or thought something that made you get cancer.

I once worked with a young girl who told me that she didn’t clean her room when her mommy told her to, and then the next day, mommy went to the hospital. She had tied these two separate events together and believed that she had caused her mom to get sick.

Reassure your kids that, no matter what they have done, said or thought, they did not cause the cancer.

Is it contagious?

Another big worry for kids is: “Can I catch it?” A young boy whose mother had been battling cancer for more than a year was so worried that he could catch it that he hadn’t hugged or kissed his mom in all that time.

Let your kids know that they can’t catch cancer like they can a cold or the flu.

It is also important to explain that cancer is a “big sick.” That way the next time your child or someone else gets sick, you can help them understand that a cold or a stomachache is a “little sick,” and that it is much different than cancer.

What now?

The third worry that kids often have is, “Who is going to take care of the mommy or daddy things now?”

It can surprise parents when they tell their kids that they have cancer and the first questions they hear are: “Since mommy is sick, who is going to wash the clothes?” or “If daddy can’t work, how will we have enough money to buy food?”

Children need to know that their needs are going to be taken care of and how that is going to happen.

Let them know if there will be other people in the home helping take care of them, or if they will be staying with other people at any point. Help to reassure them that they will always be taken care of.

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: What do kids worry about?