Cancer Care

How to talk with your children about your cancer

May 7, 2013

How to talk with your children about your cancer

By Peg Shepherd, licensed mental health practitioner

It’s tough enough to deal with your own emotions when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, but what about your children? Expect a variety of reactions from them: from silence, denial, regression and acting out to anxiety or depression.

You know your child better than anyone else. Trust your instincts when deciding how to talk with them about your cancer. What they need most right now is honesty. Honesty promotes closeness. If you’re not honest, kids will imagine all kinds of scenarios—and what they imagine can be far worse than the truth.

Start the conversation by considering: your own readiness and level of openness, your style of communicating with your child, his or her age and stage of development, your unique family situation, your spiritual and cultural beliefs and the seriousness of your illness.

Prepare yourself by waiting for test results so you can share the results in a clear and informed manner. Decide who you want present. Information should be consistent. Choose time and place to talk that’s good for all of you.

Then provide information your child can understand. Be clear and use correct words. Share a little bit at a time to avoid information overload. If they want more information, they will ask for more. They need to be able to absorb what’s happening at their own pace.

Don’t forget to offer your children time away from the rest of the family. Encourage them to take time for themselves and let them know it’s okay to act like a child.

  • Alegent Creighton Health offers several programs to help children whose parent or other significant person has cancer. They are:
  • Just for Kids, a support group for children ages five to 12. The group meets the first and third Tuesdays of the month.
  • Creative Choices for Cancer Stress, a support group for survivors that begins May 29th and meets the fourth Tuesday of the month.
  • Teens and Parents Discussing Cancer, formerly called Teen Connection, a support group for teens ages 13 to 18. The group begins in September and meets the second Tuesday of the month.

For more information, contact Peg Shepherd at (402) 572-2285.

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