Helping Your Child Understand Her Cancer Diagnosis

Sep 7 • 2016

A childhood cancer diagnosis is life-changing for the entire family. Depending on your child’s age, it can be difficult to know how to properly explain to her the situation. In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve laid out some information to help you express to your child what his diagnosis means.

To Tell or Not to Tell
One of the biggest questions parents have is whether they should tell their child he has cancer at all. While it might seem easier to not scare her, the decision to share this information with her truly depends on his age. For babies who are extremely young, avoiding the topic can be an appropriate decision. However, its best to share with older children what’s going on – even if they may not fully understand. Because your child will be feeling sick, taking more trips to the doctor than normal, undergoing tests, and experiencing treatments, doing your best to explain the situation to her and ensuring her that he is not alone is important.

Prepare for the Conversation
The best thing to do before sitting down with your child is to practice the conversation beforehand. Speak with your child’s doctor to get as much information as possible so you can feel confident that what you’re saying is clear. Don’t be afraid to ask someone else to walk through the talking points with you or even accompany you to the conversation itself. Talking about this won’t be easy, so remember that while being prepared is good, it may not go exactly as planned when the time comes.

Be Honest
When speaking with your child about his diagnosis, be open and honest about how you’re feeling and ask her to share his feelings, too. Encourage her to ask questions about what comes next, what different terminology means, how this will change his lifestyle, and anything else he is wondering. Be encouraging and remind her that you will be there throughout it all to provide support. Don’t be afraid to share what you know, including information about treatment and the fact that he could feel very sick or experience pain during the upcoming months.

Find Support
Once you are able to determine how your child is feeling about the situation, look for additional support resources in your area. This could be a therapist or counselor for her to talk to individually, a support group for the entire family, someone at your church, or a program through the hospital. Remember that it is important to have recurring conversations with your child throughout the journey so the window of communication is always open.

Learn more about childhood cancer and how you can raise awareness throughout the month of September.