It’s important to be honest with young children – especially ones who are younger than six – because they can be good at figuring out how a parent feels. But it’s also important to show your feelings in a way that gives them the least amount of worry. Keep in mind:
- Young children can be told that you’re worried or fearful, but they should also be told that nothing that they did caused your illness.
- It’s okay for young children to want to comfort a parent who is worried. Let them comfort you, and be soothing in return.
- Look for support from your partner, a friend, or another person who can listen and help. Children will learn how to deal with their fears by watching how you cope with yours.
How to share fears
Young children don’t need to hear about problems that they can’t fix, or ones that don’t directly affect them. Think about sharing your fears with other adults instead of with your children. When that’s not possible, here are some ways to help your young children cope with your fears:
- If your children ask if you’re scared, or if they see that you’ve been acting scared, you might say, “Today I’m worried because I feel sick from my treatment. But I’m going to call my doctor so she can answer my questions; then I won’t feel so worried.”
- Let your children know that it’s okay for them to feel scared sometimes, by saying: “It can feel scary when someone you love gets sick, and it’s okay for you to be scared about what’s happening to me now. But I’m working with my doctors so I can get better just as soon as I can.”
- Tell your children that it’s okay to have mixed-up feelings right now, and that it can help to tell someone else how they feel, too.
- Always tell your children when you’re feeling okay, so that they don’t have to guess.
- Tell them that you’re going to feel better, but that it might take a while. Use an example like, “Remember that time you had a cold and you felt icky for a few days? Well, I’m going to feel icky for a while, too.”
- Let your children know that people can deal with their fears by talking about them together. No one should have to hide their feelings.
There’s no need to share your fear or worry with young children unless it affects them directly. That’s because your fear might cause these reactions:
- Young children may spend a lot of time being worried for you, and about you.
- They may try to make you feel better, and will get more worried or fearful if they feel that it hasn’t helped.
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.