Talking to your children about cancer

HonorHealth Cancer Care - Talking to your children about cancer

If talking about your cancer with your children seems daunting, don't let your feelings of uncertainty discourage you from having the conversation. Navigators, child life specialists, and social workers at the HonorHealth Virginia G. Piper Cancer Care Network are here to help. Here are some tips:

  • There are no set rules. The ages and development levels of your children will play a large part in how you explain it and how much they can understand.
  • It's almost always best if you personally tell your children about your diagnosis, but it may be helpful to use a partner for support. Often, a spouse, friend or relative can help you organize your thoughts. Think about the important things to talk about, but also consider what may not be necessary to discuss during your first conversation.
  • Start by explaining what the problem is and why it is important to fix it.
  • Use simple, honest and age-appropriate explanations. Be cautious about your language, but use the word "cancer" from the beginning. This is the word they'll hear from others, and you don't want to create confusion by calling it something else.
  • You can describe cancer as "being sick" or "having an illness," but add that you can't catch it like you catch a cold. This simple description of cancer should be fine for younger children. Try not to get too detailed; simpler is better for this age group.
  • When it comes to the type of cancer or what body part is affected, describe it however it feels most comfortable. You could even just point to where it is if you feel uncomfortable describing it.
  • Understand that children will deal with different information in their own unique way, depending on their age, developmental stage, temperament and personality.

Need assistance?

For tips on speaking to children about cancer, download this brochure (PDF).

Call 480-323-1321 for additional resources on speaking with your children about cancer.