Talking With Your Child About Cancer

If you choose to tell your child yourself, talking to others might help you decide what to say. Health professionals such as your child’s doctor, nurse, or social worker can offer ideas. Talk with parents of other children with cancer. Thinking about what you want to say, talking it over with other concerned adults, and rehearsing it with someone close to you will help you feel more at ease.

You might say that there are different kinds of cells in the body, and these cells have different jobs to perform. Like people, these cells must work together to get their jobs done. Cancer cells can be described as “troublemakers,” that disrupt the work of the good cells. Treatment helps to get rid of the “troublemakers” so the other cells can work together once again.

“What Should I Tell the Kids at School?”

Children with cancer are concerned about how their friends and schoolmates will react. This is especially true when they have missed a lot of school or return with obvious physical changes such as weight loss, weight gain, or hair loss. Encourage your child to keep in touch with close friends and classmates. Friends often want to know what happens when a child is away from school. Encourage your child to talk honestly about the disease and the kind of treatment being given. Suggest that your child reassure friends that they cannot “catch” cancer from anyone. You or one of the teachers at school also may be able to talk to other students.

Try to help your child understand that not all people, including some adults, know about cancer. People who don’t understand cancer often act differently or may give your child incorrect information.

Such talks with others may cause your child to have doubts and fears despite all your reassurance. Ask your child about conversations with others so that you can correct any misunderstandings.

You may want to ask your child’s doctor, nurse, or social worker about a school conference, classroom presentations, or a school assembly that includes a question and answer session to help other students better understand cancer and what is happening to your child. Your child’s teachers or the school counselor can help.

Your child will learn two important lessons about how people react to illness. First, some people, no matter what they are told, may act different because they do not know much about cancer. Second, good friends will remain friends. They know your child is still the same friend as before.

Like adults, children with cancer feel uncertain, anxious, and afraid at times. But, unlike many adults, children often are not able to talk about their fears. Instead, they may express their feelings by being unpleasant, boisterous, or bossy, or by being quieter than usual. As a parent, you know how your child usually behaves, so you will probably be the first to notice any differences. Play is a way for a child to express and reduce fears and anxieties, and you should encourage it. Drawing pictures and playing with puppets, dolls, and even medical supplies are ways children may show that they don’t understand what is happening or that they need more reassurance and love.

Some children find it hard to express their feelings. These children may have nightmares or eating or behavioral difficulties. They also may not do as well in school. Some children resume behaviors that they had outgrown, such as bedwetting or thumbsucking. You should talk about these things with your child’s doctor, nurse, social worker, or school counselor.

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