- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking about the diagnosis
- Coping with kids’ reactions
Coping with kids’ reactions
Below we talk about the different reactions kids can have when they learn that someone close to them has been diagnosed with cancer and ways you can manage these reactions.
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Ways to cope with kids’ reactions
It’s natural for children and young people to have lots of different reactions to a cancer diagnosis. Talking with them about their reaction gives you a chance to discuss ways of managing how they’re feeling.
CryingIf your children cry, let them know it’s a natural reaction. Holding them will help some children feel secure. Let them know that they don’t have to “be strong”, and that feeling sad after a cancer diagnosis is common.
FearSome children will worry endlessly. Ask them what is their biggest worry. It can be hurtful if they start to avoid or ignore you. Explain that you are still the same person, despite any changes in how you look or behave.
Children may also worry that they’re going to be abandoned if something happens to the sick parent. Give your child a chance to talk about their fears and reassure them that they will always be cared for.
AngerIt is natural for children and young people to feel angry about the diagnosis as it means their lives could be disrupted.
Younger children may be annoyed if they have to miss a party or are asked to play quietly. Older children may seem angry and uncooperative if asked to help out more. Both may be disappointed or upset if a planned holiday has to be postponed or cancelled.
No reactionSometimes children will appear not to have heard the news or do not react. You may be confused or hurt by this, especially if it took some planning and courage to talk to your children about the diagnosis.
A lack of reaction isn’t unusual – often the children are protecting themselves and need some time to process the information. Or they may want to protect you from seeing how they are feeling. Remind them that they can talk to you or another trusted adult about it anytime.
It is likely that you will have several conversations about the diagnosis as your children’s understanding grows and other questions arise. Sometimes, despite your efforts to support your children, they may struggle with the impact cancer is having on their family. This is quite common and does not necessarily mean things have gone badly.
If you are concerned that your children may need extra support, see Getting support.
Support for children and young adults
Supports children living with cancer and their families, as well as children who have a parent with cancer. The Camp Quality Kids’ Guide to Cancer app is aimed at children aged up to 15 years who have a parent, sibling or friend with cancer. Camp Quality also offers free school programs, recreation programs, camps and family experiences.
Helps young people aged 12–25 who are dealing with their own or a close family member’s cancer. Young people can connect with others online through the Canteen Connect app; get counselling face-to-face, by phone or online; get specialist, in-hospital treatment; and take part in programs, camps and recreation days.
Provides practical, emotional and financial support for families who have a child (aged 18 or under) with cancer.
Camp Quality, Canteen and Redkite are working together to provide Cancer Hub – a digital one-stop shop to help families (with children aged up to 25 years) more easily access practical and emotional support.
Podcast: Explaining Cancer to Kids
Prof Jane Turner AM, International Psycho-Oncology Society President Emeritus,The University of Queensland, QLD; Taylor Baker, Consumer; Dr Ben Britton, Principal Clinical and Health Psychologist, Head of Psychology, Hunter New England Mental Health, NSW; Camp Quality; Dr Lisa Cuddeford, Head of Department, WA Paediatric Palliative Care Service, Perth Children’s Hospital, WA; A/Prof Peter Downie, Head, Paediatric Haematology–Oncology and Director, Children’s Cancer Centre, Monash Children’s Hospital, VIC; Dr Sarah Ellis, Clinical Psychologist, Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Malia Emberson-Lafoa’i, Consumer; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Jane Gillard, Consumer; Mary McGowan OAM, International Childhood Cancer Advocate, VIC; Annette Polizois, Senior Social Worker, Women, Family and Emergency Care Team, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Rhondda Rytmeister, Clinical Psychologist, HeadWayHealth (formerly Snr Clinical Psychologist, The Cancer Centre for Children, Westmead, NSW); Nadine Street, Head of Social Work and Social Welfare, HNE Mental Health Service, NSW; Warren Summers, Online Counsellor, Canteen, NSW.
We would also like to thank the health professionals, consumers, organisations and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title, and we are grateful to the parents and young people whose real-life stories have added to the richness and relevance of this book.
We thank and acknowledge Dr Paula K. Rauch, MD, Founder and Director, Marjorie E. Korff PACT (Parenting At a Challenging Time) Program and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, whose research and writing on helping parents talk to their children about cancer was used as source material for this book and has been adapted in several sections: pages 8–11, How children understand cancer; page 22, Answering key questions: Are you going to die?; page 26, Involving the school or preschool; pages 30–31, Hospital visits; and pages 36–37, Encouraging family time. We also thank the American Cancer Society for permission to use and adapt material on pages 8-11 from its book Cancer in Our Family: Helping children cope with a parent’s illness (2013); Macmillan Cancer Support for permission to use its book Talking to Children and Teenagers When an Adult Has Cancer (2013) as a source of information; Jessica Watt, Oncology Social Worker, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, for her contribution on page 20, When another child has cancer; and Diane McGeachy, Hobart Counselling Centre, for contributing material for page 37, Spending one-on-one time.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
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