It is hard enough for us adults to have to deal with bad news that affects ourselves or a closed loved one. But it can be even harder on the adults if they have kids they need to inform that mom or dad, or grandma or grandpa or uncle Joey are seriously ill. In this blog article I will describe the when, why and how to tell kids these things.
Should I tell my child that Uncle Joey has cancer?
Absolutely you should tell. There has been much research on this topic. If you are not honest with your child about this, how can they trust you when they have tougher questions later on? Kids are also very perceptive and smart. It is hard to hide things from them, and they will hear things you think they can’t. It is much better to tell them directly and be open about it. Dont’t make up words or try to soften the blow too much. Use the actual word for cancer, e.g. leukaemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, brain tumor etcetera
When should I tell my child that a family member has a serious condition?
The sooner, the better. As soon as you know, you should tell them. It might explain to them why mom or dad are sad or are away from home more. You may get more snuggles and kisses, which is a great cure when you are feeling sad.
How should I tell my child that grandpa has an aggressive form of lung cancer?
You should tell any kids of any age, but the details of what you tell them, differs per age. Under age 8 yrs, basic terms and a very brief summary are usually enough. Between 8-13 yrs they may want more details or maybe even see pictures. Teens might want to read articles or books about it.
There are some good references out there that can help you (see this link
These are the things that I would include:
- that grandpa has cancer and it is located in the lungs
- a short summary what next steps are (e.g. surgery, chemo, radiation)
- what this might mean for the kids themselves in the near future and longer term (e.g. being picked up by others, more play dates, understanding why mom and dad are more emotional etc)
- remember that kids still believe in magical world. make sure they understand they did NOT cause the cancer to occur (e.g. say something like “Doctors tell us nobody understands how the cancer gets there, but we DO know it is NOT caused by someone else”)
- you can NOT catch cancer; it is NOT contagious like a cold (please give grandpa lots of hugs, he could use them)
- please reassure your child that they may ask you questions at any time
What do I say if my child asks me if mommy is gonna die from the breast cancer she has been diagnosed with?
This is probably one of the hardest questions to deal with. It is already hard and painful enough for the adult to think about death in relation to the illness, let alone having to deal with answering this question. As much as you may want to reassure and say that “everything will be alright”, you cannot say this as nobody knows the answer to the question. Probably the best way to try to answer it is by not saying “no”, but rather “the doctors are gonna do everything they can to get rid of the cancer; what can help mommy is giving lots of hugs and writing cards/drawing pictures”, etc.
- Be honest when it comes to telling your kids about the diagnosis
- Make sure to reiterate cancer is NOT contagious
- Ensure that your kids understand they did NOT cause the cancer to occur
- Answer questions honestly without being too blunt
- Invite the kids that they can ask you questions about this at any time