Cancer rocks the world of a child when an adult they love faces a diagnosis. While there is no right or wrong way to talk to children about cancer, small ones need to know what is happening around them and how this will affect them. Children are smart and intuitive, so avoid whispering and be honest. They will know you are hiding something from them, and will create their own scenario of what’s happening — likely much worse than reality.
Children live in a very small world: deliver information on a need-to-know basis. While communication will help prevent excessive anxiety or traumatic stress, avoid overwhelming your child with details.
~ Choose your words wisely to avoid creating new fears—“mommy has some bad germs that are making her sick” may bring on an unhealthy fear of germs.
~ Explain that mommy is not contagious—you won’t catch her cancer.
~ Acknowledge fears—let them know you want to hear their fears and thoughts.
~ Remain calm and in control—if you appear anxious or fearful, your children will emulate that fear.
~ It’s okay to appear sad—this will let them know it is safe to express their feelings.
~ Allay the fear that your cancer is their fault. Children often feel responsible for whatever happens in their young lives — therapists call this “magical thinking.” Reassure them that your illness has nothing to do with themselves or their behavior.
~ Make every attempt to keep your child’s routine as stress-free and normal as possible. As hard as it may be, try to maintain extracurricular activities, play dates and family fun.
~ Enlist help with childcare to keep your own stress level down: set up a carpool to shuttle kids around to their usual activities, for example. A calmer you will help your kids stay calm, too.
~ Bring in the troops — children need reassurance that their basic needs will be cared for. Ask for help with everyday tasks from people who your children know well and trust – a beloved grandparent or other relative is perfect.
~Employ art as a venue for your children to express their feelings. This helps children put their fears to paper and therefore externalize them. And a tangible item like a drawing or sculpture gives you a wonderful opportunity to discuss your illness with them in a different, less scary, way.
When Mommy Has Cancer Elyn Jacobs shares tips with helping children understand and cope with a parent’s cancer: Read More