Young children: How to talk about pain

Children can be very sensitive to how a parent is feeling. It may be hard to keep even young children (less than six years old) from noticing that you’re in pain. For this reason, it’s important to be honest with them. Figure out how to share what you’re going through in a way that causes the least amount of worry for your children.

Talking about pain

You don’t want your children to worry any more than they have to. Try these tips:

  • When talking about how you’re feeling, make sure to use language that your children can understand. For example, you might say, “My belly hurts,” or, “I feel tired.”
  • Let them know that there are things you can do to take care of your pain: “I’m going to take my medicine,” or “I’m going to take a nap.”
  • If they can help, let them know: “Let’s turn down the volume on the TV.”
  • Be creative. Find ways to hold or touch your children that won’t cause you to feel pain. Tell your children that you love them, and you’re there for them.
  • Seek help from your partner, friends, or other people who are around to help you.
  • Remember that your children learn ways to deal with their fears by watching how you cope with yours.

Common reactions

Here are some common reactions that very young children have when a parent is in pain from cancer:

  • Even if you don’t say anything, young children can tell how you feel by looking at your face.
  • Young children are very good at noticing fear, pain, or happiness.
  • Young children may be worried when they see that you’re in pain; they may need you to reassure them.
  • They may want to help you feel better, and they will feel good if there is something that they can do.


American Cancer Society. (2005). Helping children when 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