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Talking to Your Children About Cancer

(Making a Difficult Conversation a Little Easier)

Even if talking about your cancer with your children seems daunting, it's important to not let your own feelings of uncertainty discourage you from having the conversation. Here are some tips:

  • There are no set rules. The development levels of your children will play a large part in explanations and their degree of understanding.
  • 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 the initial 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 cannot catch it like you catch a cold." This simple description of cancer should be just 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.

See our brochure for more information and tips on how to speak to children of different ages about cancer.

If you have additional questions, please call 623-780-HOPE (4673) and we'll be happy to get you the resources you need to make this difficult conversation a little easier.