School-age children: When is it time to talk about cancer?

Your children need to be told that you have cancer, but you’ve been waiting for the right time to do it. There’s never a “perfect” time, though, to give this kind of news to children who are between 6 and 12 years old. The following guidelines might help.

Good times to talk

When it comes to talking with school-age children about your diagnosis, you may find that some times are better than others:

  • Tell your children only when YOU feel ready to talk about your cancer.
  • Don’t let too much time go by before talking with your child, because it might seem like you’re keeping a secret.
  • Pick a time when you and your children have a chance to talk without being interrupted.
  • Some parents have found that it’s best to talk with their children before starting cancer treatments: Their kids worry less since they know what’s happening, and it builds trust between them.
  • Find a time when your children can pay attention to what you have to say – not during a favorite game or activity.
  • Leave lots of time after your talk so that you can answer your children’s questions without rushing.
  • Try not to talk with your children right before they have a big event or special occasion.
  • You don’t have to cover everything the first time. There will be many other chances to talk.
  • Good talks can happen whenever the time feels right: For example, you could talk when driving in the car together, or during a walk.

Common reactions

When a parent talks with school-age children about cancer:

  • School-age children like to learn; they may want to know more details about your illness and treatment than you’d expected.
  • They may want so many details, in fact, that you won’t be able to answer all of their questions right away. That’s okay. Let them know that you’ll find out the answers and get back to them, once you know more about your treatment.
  • They may seem most worried about how your illness will affect their day-to-day routine; it doesn’t mean, though, that they don’t care about you or your diagnosis.


American Cancer Society. (2005). Helping children with a family member has

Blum, D. CancerCare Connect. (2005) Helping children when a family member has cancer. Retrieved 6/30/08 from

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