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    How, When & What to Tell the Children ...

    Talking to anyone about having breast cancer can be difficult - even for the gifted public speakers among us. Not a popular topic for research, telling your kids about your cancer is about the hardest discussion any parent can imagine.

    Women faced with their own breast cancer need help in deciding how much to say, when to say it, and how to make sure that the message gets through in a healthy way.

    Sharing is Caring
    The little research that has been done on the issue of discussing cancer diagnoses with children suggests that it is a very good thing to do. When a family member gets cancer, children sense that something is wrong, even if they don't know what it is. Children know when their parents are upset. They have the same reactions as adults to whispers or conversations stopping suddenly when they enter the room. If you keep things from them, your children will probably think that things are worse than they really are.

    "Why... What Did I Do?"
    A child whose family is disrupted by cancer may feel that they caused the sickness in some mysterious way. Did not finishing supper or giving Mom a hard time about cleaning the room make her sick? Most children believe in superstitious reasoning. Doing bad things creates a reason to get some sort of punishment. What about the last fight when mean things were said, did someone hear those words and this bad thing is meant as a punishment?

    The same reasoning that the cancer patient and the rest of the family uses is taking place. You ask, "Why me?" Your family struggles to answer why my spouse, my child, or my sibling. Hopefully, on an adult level most of us realise that this is not a punishment. But, honestly, how often has the question, "What did I do to deserve this?" run through your mind?

    The National Cancer Institute Guide for children, When Someone in Your Family Has Cancer, quotes a young boy whose mom has cancer, "'I left my junk all over the floor one night instead of putting it away, and the next morning, mom fell over it. She was mad and had a lot of bruises. A little later, the doctor told her she had cancer. She's in the hospital now. Maybe if she hadn't fallen down because of me, she'd be okay.' Tom, age 11."

    Keep The Door Open
    Talking about cancer lowers children's anxiety level and lets them know that whatever is upsetting the family dynamic -- it isn't them. Children need an introduction to voicing these fears. Avoiding discussion closes an outlet that a child whose parent is ill desperately needs.

    Talking to them, with words they can understand, is always better than hiding it. Talking about this problem, like any other, improves family communications. It lets children know that they are not the cause of this painful occurance. It keeps the children in the inner circle and lets them know that you trust them with important family matters.

    Shine The Light On The Beast
    Help them face the scary monster - this time it isn't in the dark, the closet, or under the bed. The way to scare off this one is to make it a sickness - children understand being sick. Cancer is a very bad sickness, but a very treatable one. Discuss the disease and the treatments in language that they can understand. You will be tired, you will be sore, you might even be a little cranky because of the disease and the treatments. You may be surprised to find that putting your child's fears to rest helps you to feel much better able to face your own fears.

    August 29, 2000

    Last updated April 15, 2006

    Elsewhere on the Web:

    Be Honest with Children About Breast Cancer

    Talking to children about cancer

    Talking With Kids About Cancer - Related Links




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