Now that you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you’ve probably been given lots of information about treatments and options from medical professionals. You understand what is going on with your body and what to expect once you begin your treatments, but you will probably wonder how to tell your children that you have cancer.
Most parents want to protect their kids from upsetting news by keeping any difficult or confusing information from them.
But your children know you well, and they are sensitive to changes in you—both emotional and physical. They are going to notice these changes, and may even imagine something worse than what is really happening.
If you don’t tell your children you have cancer, and your children later discover the news, even during remission, the trust between you and your child may be damaged. While sharing that you have cancer is certainly difficult information to provide to your children, they do need to know. Here are some tips on how to tell your kids that you have cancer:
- Provide information in words your child will understand. Younger children will want to know that they can’t catch cancer and that they didn’t cause it.
- Provide the facts, but keep things as positive as possible.
- Let your kids know how this may change you both physically and emotionally, and how it will change their worlds. For instance, you may not be home during your treatments, but family or friends will make sure they get to their usual activities.
- Share your (screened for your kids’ maturity level) emotions, because if you share yours, they will know is okay to share theirs. It’s okay, for instance, to tell your kids you are scared, sad, disappointed or angry that you have cancer.
- Listen to and answer questions as best as you can, with their ages and their maturity in mind.
You will need to provide additional information as you gain more knowledge and as your treatments progress. Please be open to asking for help in this process from family members, friends, school counselors, and medical and mental health professionals. It will also be important to keep the family’s lives as routine as possible, because this will provide all of you more security.
For more information on how to tell your kids you have cancer, visit our Resources section.
Nancy C. Osborn, PhD is a psychologist specializing in working with youth and families. She’s had the opportunity to work with youth for more than 25 years. Among her many roles, she is proud to be a spouse, mom and cancer survivor.
NOTE: The information provided above is intended to provide general information on this topic. Please seek the advice of a mental health professional to address your personal situation.