Having chosen to talk with your children honestly about your cancer, you may now be worried about how much information you can and should give children who are ages 6 to 12. Keep the following in mind when deciding how much to share.
What your child needs to know
- Even if you do not have all the information about your treatment, it is important to tell your children something like, “cancer is a serious, but treatable disease.”
- Children need to be told a few basic things about treatment:
- How long it is expected to take
- Doctors are working hard to make you feel better
- You are hopeful about getting better
- What kinds of physical behavioral changes you may experience
- Discuss what will occur during the next few days and weeks
What to tell your school-age children
- Give specific real examples of what may occur. For example, “I will not always be able to take you to soccer practice, so you will go with auntie sometimes.”
- Explain the real facts about cancer many times:
- You did not cause it
- You cannot get it
Six year olds and twelve year olds have different abilities to understand concepts. Preteens may think more about the time-frame of your illness, and how long things will be different. They may worry about family activities, holidays, school and sports function. Younger children may have a harder time thinking ahead.
School-age children may have the following reactions:
- They may ask questions showing their interest in the “bigger picture” of how you will feel as you go through treatment
- They may want details about how your treatment will affect them.
- They may show their concern by sometimes having these symptoms:
- Withdrawal from friends
- Problems sleeping
- Changes in eating habits
- Behaving like a younger child when they experience stress
Trying to keep their routine normal, and preparing them for changes, will help your school-age child.
American Cancer Society. (2005). Helping children when a family member has cancer. www.cancer.org.
Blum, D. CancerCare Connect. (2005) Helping children when a family member has cancer. Retrieved 6/30/08 from www.cancercare.org.
Harpham, W. (1997). When a parent has cancer: a guide to caring for your children. New York: HarperCollins.
National Cancer Institute (n.d.) When someone in your family has cancer. Retrieved 7/1/08 from www.cancer.gov.