Category Archives: Parenting

How to tell your kids when a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer or other serious illness

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.
  1. Be honest when it comes to telling your kids about the diagnosis
  2. Make sure to reiterate cancer is NOT contagious
  3. Ensure that your kids understand they did NOT cause the cancer to occur
  4. Answer questions honestly without being too blunt
  5. Invite the kids that they can ask you questions about this at any time

The gifts we give our children

Remember when you were a kid and your parents would tell you stories about what life was like when they were children? This blog post is about bringing back those times.

tvI remember my parents telling me how one of their friends’ parents had one of the 1st television sets in their village and everyone would go over there to watch the news. I remember my parents writing letters, real letters, to their parents who lived overseas and it would take 3 weeks for them to get a reply back. Calling them would be too expensive; at the time it would cost about 5 dollars per minute so that was only reserved for special occasions.


ipodWhat is life like for our kids in 2014? They have access to iPads, iPods, computers, Video-on-demand, FaceTime, Skype etcetera. Sure, it is nice for the my parents, now as grandparents, to see our kids via webcam or Facetime. And yes, it is nice that the kids can be entertained with apps on the phone or iPod while waiting for a delayed flight. But what did we used to do when we didn’t have all of that?


We would talk as a family, we would play games (think of a country that starts with a B, take last letter of that country and that will be the first letter of an animal, etc), we would look at license plates and note what country (in Europe) or province (in Canada) they were from. We would play cassette tapes in the car or listen to the radio. We can still do these things with our children, well maybe not listen to cassette tapes in cars. And I know families that make an effort to do so.

In my opinion it is important to keep a kid’s mind occupied and challenged by for example stimulating kids’ imaginations by playing pretend, being physical by playing outside, biking, skating and walking to name a few. Playing in the sprinklers outside in the backyard on hot days is so much fun, even for adults. Board games are a great way to spend quality time as a family while also developing strategic minds. It is important for kids to put away their electronics, but also for the parents to put away their smartphones during that time !

When it comes to possessions, a lot of kids these days have all they could wish for. Between Holiday Season, birthdays, gifts from grandparents and visiting friends it seems they constantly receive presents. Do they really need more? What about teaching our kids about those kids and families that are less fortunate? I have heard of some great ideas of gifts for birthday parties or gifts parents can give their own children. Some kids’ parties suggest to bring 4 dollars for the birthday kid: 2 dollars for the child to buy a gift for themselves, and 2 dollars for a charity of their choosing. Other families ask for donations to a good cause in lieu of a birthday gift.

The most original gift idea I have heard a parent give their child, is by one of my daughter’s friends’ parents. They give their children 10-15 coupons for their birthday. Each coupon may only be used once, and when given to the parent has to be honoured without question. Examples of these coupons are “stay up 15 minutes later”, “go for dessert with parents WITHOUT the other siblings”, “go to movie with mom” just to name a few. And all their kids are excited and look forward to their birthday coupons.

Writing this blog article makes me realize I sound like my parents/grandparents did when I was a child, talking about how it used to be. But looking back now, I think that was a great time. With all the amazing and wonderful things all these new technologies have brought, we have to remember not to let the “old ways” die. A game of “Sorry” or “Monopoly” are still a lot of fun! In the end, apart from the physical gifts the children of this generation seem to receive a lot of, it is our duty as parents to give them the greatest gift of all: becoming a decent human being. Teaching them the gift of respect, of appreciation, of family values and the gift of giving.


Dr Raffi’s suggestions for gifts we can give our children:

1. More real games, less computer/handheld games

2. Have kids write real letters to their classmates, grandparents, siblings

3. Kids birthday ideas: in lieu of gifts, donate to charity

4. Try “Birthday Coupons” as a present for your child

Putting family first

I know it has been quite some time since I last wrote a blog post article. I have been quite busy at work and at home. I will do my best to try to write some more again. Today’s blog post is not about diseases or prevention thereof, but rather about priorities in life. priorities

With all of us having busy lives, we sometimes tend to forget to cherish the little things in life. This blog post is just to remind us of some of the important things in life.


Moral story:


“SON: “Daddy, may I ask you a question?”

DAD: “Yeah sure, what is it?”

SON: “Daddy, how much do you make an hour?”

DAD: “That’s none of your business. Why do you ask such a thing?”

SON: “I just want to know. Please tell me, how much do you make an hour?”

DAD: “If you must know, I make $100 an hour.”

SON: “Oh! (With his head down).

SON: “Daddy, may I please borrow $50?”

The father was furious.

DAD: “If the only reason you asked that, is so you can borrow some money to buy a silly toy or some other nonsense, then you march yourself straight to your room and go to bed. Think about why you are being so selfish. I work hard everyday for such this childish behavior.”

The little boy quietly went to his room and shut the door.

The man sat down and started to get even angrier about the little boy’s questions. How dare he ask such questions only to get some money?

After about an hour or so, the man had calmed down, and started to think:

Maybe there was something he really needed to buy with that $ 50 and he really didn’t ask for money very often. The man went to the door of the little boy’s room and opened the door.

DAD: “Are you asleep, son?”

SON: “No daddy, I’m awake”.

DAD: “I’ve been thinking, maybe I was too hard on you earlier. It’s been a long day and I took out my aggravation on you. Here’s the $50 you asked for.”

The little boy sat straight up, smiling.

SON: “Oh, thank you daddy!”

Then, reaching under his pillow he pulled out some crumpled up bills. The man saw that the boy already had money, started to get angry again. The little boy slowly counted out his money, and then looked up at his father.

DAD: “Why do you want more money if you already have some?”

SON: “Because I didn’t have enough, but now I do. Daddy, I have $100 now. Can I buy an hour of your time? Please come home early tomorrow. I would like to have dinner with you.”

The father was crushed.

He put his arms around his little son, and he begged for his forgiveness.

It’s just a short reminder to all of you working so hard in life. We should not let time slip through our fingers without having spent some time with those who really matter to us, those close to our hearts. Do remember to share that $100 worth of your time with someone you love. If we die tomorrow, the company that we are working for could easily replace us in a matter of days. But the family and friends we leave behind will feel the loss for the rest of their lives. And come to think of it, we pour ourselves more into work than to our family.

- Author Anonymous


Enjoy your kids, spouse, parents etc. Make the time to actually be there mentally when you are there physically. Try to keep work at work. If you truly need to work at home, make it a point to do so after the kids are asleep. But ideally try to plan your day such that you leave work at work. Your kids and spouse will love the attention, and you will feel even more enjoyment from them! family

18 Things Parents Want Providers to Remember

As a Pediatrician I often see kids (and parents of kids) who have some kind of physical or mental disability. It could be anything varying from cerebral palsy to seizures to trisomy-21 to a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder to name a few. I see them for a short time in my exam room, and I try to imagine how difficult it sometimes (or always?) must be for the families. But nobody could summarize it better nor put it in a list better than Amy Kelly, mom of Annie who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when she was 2 years old. What Amy has written in 18 points is so clear and conveys beautifully what a parent of a child with a disability experiences every day. Would it not be great to include a copy of this 18-item list for every new medical graduate along with their diploma?

I am posting her “18 Things Parents Want Providers to Remember”. It is an eye-opener for any healthcare provider who sees children with any form of disability as well as any family member or friend of these kids.Family_Portrait_


18 Things Parents Want Providers to Remember

*Written by Amy Kelly, mother to Danny, Annie and Ryan Kelly, Devereux PA Director of Family Services, LEND Fellow – Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia & Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network National Family Advisory Co-Chair”

1. No parent wants their child to have a disability.

2. We are doing the best we can. This is really hard painful work. It is hard to see our children suffering and not able to understand the world like most people do.

3. We are experts on our children. 

4. We know them very well. Listen to us.

5. Don’t promise us things you can’t provide, or promise us that others will provide them.

6. It is hard to tell our story to the outside world. Be gentle with us.

7. We are grieving for lost hopes, dreams and ideals that haven’t or won’t be reached.

8. We are tired and sleep deprived. We are exhausted.

9. We are isolated. There aren’t many people who understand, and if they do, they are tired too.

10. Don’t ask us to tell our story in front of our children.

11. We carry a huge burden as the reporter of what is happening with our child.

12. If you say you will call us, call us. If we leave a message, call us back.

13. We will often compromise more than we should.

14. We are competent from experience.

15. Don’t finish our thoughts and sentences. Don’t assume you know what we feel. Please take the time to ask us and let us talk.

16. Don’t forget that this makes us incredibly sad. We are grieving.

17. Experiences like raising a child with a disability means we find out who our real friends and supports are. It means we often have to grieve the loss of someone who we thought was there to support us.

18. Boundaries are critical to observe.


Everything you always wanted to know about allowance, but were afraid to ask

This is a topic which is often discussed amongst parents and their friends. “Did you start giving an allowance yet? How much are you giving? Do you pay your kids something for doing the dishes?”

If you talk to several people you will not find a consensus: Some people do not believe in giving their children allowances at all, others cannot afford to. This blog is written for those parents that are considering starting their kids on an allowance.

Parents will start off their kids’ allowances at different ages, and at different amounts. Unfortunately, no solid data can be found on this.

In this blog I will summarize information from data I gathered from different groups: psychologists, pediatricians and parents. After reading this, you will hopefully have enough information to decide for yourself what you will do for your child. And it may not be exactly the same as we did for our kids. And that’s alright.

At what age should I start allowance?

As a rule of thumb, most experts agree that we should start paying allowance when your child is old enough to understand the concept of money. This is usually around age 5 or 6 yrs.

How much allowance should I pay?

In general, the amount of allowance should be enough for kids to spend on whatever they want, but at the same time not too much as to cause the parent a financial loss (i.e. you are ok for them to squander it). You should talk to your child or teen about what you expect their allowance to cover. Of course this also directly impacts the amount you will have to pay them; e.g. if your 11-yr old daughter is expected to buy her own clothes, you may wish to give her slightly more than the rules I am about to describe below.

There are some experts that feel the weekly allowance in dollars should be equal to the age of the child in years. I am in favour of paying the kids a weekly allowance that is equal to half their age in years. At the end of every month, as an encouragement to saving, tell them you will match whatever they saved that month.

What do I pay allowance for?

Some believe that the kids should do chores to “earn” their allowance. I believe that performing small chores (e.g. cleaning up table after dinner, doing dishes, making your bed etc) teaches kids responsibility as well as encourages the feeling of being part of a family. Each member of the family contributes in his or her own way. They are part of the value system that kids learn. These contributions should not be remunerated. However, if it is an unusually large and/or infrequent chore (e.g. spring cleaning of garage), then some “extra allowance” could be given.

Young children might use allowance towards buying candies or toys. Or they may choose to save their allowance to buy a bigger present.

Older kids may buy (video) games or clothes from their allowance.

If you would like to research more on this topic, check out this link to a statement of the National Association of School Psychologists which dates back to 1998 but is still applicable, or read Janet Bodnar’s book “Dollars and Sense for Kids”.

Bottomline, Dr. Raffi’s tips on allowance:

1. Start at age 5 or 6 yrs old

2. Weekly allowance in dollars equals half the child’s age in years

3. Do not pay for chores unless it is an infrequent or unusually large chore

4. Try to encourage your child to save by offering to match whatever they have saved at the end of the month