Why tell children about your cancer?
Parents sometimes feel that by not telling a child or young person about a cancer diagnosis, they’re protecting them.
Trying to protect children from difficult news, worry and distress is natural. But not explaining what’s happening may make them feel more vulnerable, as it doesn’t give them the chance to talk openly about their fears and worries.
Children know when something serious is affecting the family. They’ll notice unusual comings and goings, phone calls and hushed conversations. They’ll pick up on changes in how you and other adults around them are feeling and behaving.
I have an eight year old granddaughter who knows that grandma coughs, and grandma disappears, and I felt it was time that she was told. At eight years old you begin to overhear adult conversations, and I would hate for her to have an unexplained situation.
Understandably, you may have concerns that delay or stop you explaining what’s happening. You may feel it will bring home the reality of the situation when you’re still struggling to come to terms with it yourself. The thought of coping with a child’s distress on top of everything else may seem overwhelming. Or you may worry that family life will be disrupted and that cancer will become the focus instead of things like school and exams.
The benefits of talking
There are many benefits to being open and involving children and teenagers:
Knowing what’s going on will make them feel more secure and less anxious.
It gives them permission to talk – they can ask questions and say how they feel.
It shows you trust them and you don’t feel like you need to guard what you say all the time.
It can make you all feel closer – your children can help support you, and you can help support them.
They will learn how to cope when life isn’t going to plan.
The effects of not talking
Wanting to protect children from difficult news is natural. But if you don’t talk to them, they may:
feel frightened because they don’t know what’s going on
feel alone with lots of worries and no one to talk to
worry that something they’ve done or thought has caused the cancer
think they’re not important enough to be included
imagine something worse than the reality
think cancer is too terrible to be talked about
misunderstand situations and get the wrong idea.
Children often find out about what’s going on even when they haven’t been told. Finding out like this can have a negative effect on their relationship with their parent(s). They may wonder if they can trust you or other adults to tell them about important things.
Children also pick up things from the television, internet and overheard conversations, but this information can sometimes be misguided and inaccurate. If you don’t speak to them about what’s really happening, they may continue to believe this information.