Cancer is scary enough for adults but for children who don’t understand what’s involved with this awful disease and don’t understand the big medical words and procedures, it can be downright devastating. But how do you talk to your children about it? And how do you know that their old enough to have such a difficult conversation?
Some experts say that children are likely ready to discuss important issues like this once they have demonstrated that they have learned how to control their own emotions. There are a wide range of emotions associated with cancer – anger, denial, sadness, and fear – and when you’re talking with your children, they will likely experience some or all of these emotions. The most important thing you can do is to be in control of your own emotions in order to be able to be supportive of your children and inform them of what’s to come.
In addition to controlling your emotions, it’s best to wait until the family is together as a whole and have the conversation together in the privacy of your home. The group of you together can support each other while privately sharing your emotions.
It won’t be necessary to follow a script, unless you feel that it will make it easier for you to get everything out that you want to say. Either way, you want to make sure you cover the important aspects of what will happen as the disease takes its course: hair loss, nausea from chemotherapy, etc. Some of this information is likely to be confusing, particularly to young children, and you will want to make sure that you explain that what is happening to the cancer sufferer as a result of treatment, and will not happen to them too. Another thing to do is to look for books that can help children to understand what is happening.
While this is no doubt a difficult conversation to have with your children, most experts agree that it’s important to be honest. Some parents believe that by hiding the symptoms and deflecting a child’s questions, they are protecting their children. It is more likely that children will become more stressed by not being informed. Without information about what is happening, children may form their own ideas, including the fear that whatever is happening to their parent or loved one might happen to them too. By being honest up front, you might be able to make a difficult situation a bit easier.