- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking about the diagnosis
- Coping with kids’ reactions
Coping 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 their emotions.
If your children cry, let them know it’s a natural reaction. Holding them will help them feel secure. Let them know that they don’t have to “be strong”, and that feeling sad after a cancer diagnosis is common.
Some children will worry endlessly. It can be hurtful if they start to avoid or ignore the person who has cancer. Explain that the person with cancer is still the same person, despite any changes in appearance.
Children may also worry that they’re going to be abandoned by their sick parent or by their well parent. Reassure them that they will always be cared for. Help your child deal with their concerns by giving them a chance to talk about their fears.
It 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 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.
Sometimes 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 share the diagnosis.
A lack of reaction isn’t unusual – often the children are protecting themselves and need some time to digest the information. Or they may want to protect you from seeing how they are feeling. Remind them that they can talk to you about it anytime.
You may need to talk again if the situation or their behaviour has changed since you first talked. Sometimes, despite your efforts to help your children cope, they may struggle with the diagnosis. See the box below for services that can help children whose family members have cancer.
Camp Quality supports children living with cancer and their families, and children who have a parent with cancer. Their Kids’ Guide to Cancer app is aimed at children aged 8–13 who have a parent, sibling or friend with cancer. It answers the big questions about cancer and includes stories from other children. Camp Quality also offers a free educational puppet show for schools and organises recreation programs, camps and family experiences. Call 1300 662 267 or visit campquality.org.au.
CanTeen 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; access counselling face-to-face, by phone, email or online; get specialist, in-hospital treatment; and take part in programs, camps and recreation days – all to help them cope with the impact of cancer. To find out more about CanTeen, call 1800 835 932 or visit canteen.org.au.
We thank the reviewers of this book: Professor Kate White, Chair of Nursing, The University of Sydney, NSW; Sarah Ellis, Psychologist, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Kids with Cancer Foundation, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Chandra Franken, Program Manager – NSW & ACT, Starlight Children’s Foundation, NSW; John Friedsam, General Manager of Divisions, CanTeen, NSW; Keely Gordon-King, Cancer Counselling Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Stephanie Konings, Research Officer, CanTeen, NSW; Sally and Rosie Morgan, Consumers; Dr Pandora Patterson, General Manager, Research and Youth Cancer Services, Canteen, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Cancer Nursing Research Unit, The University of Sydney, NSW and Visiting Professor, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, UK; Suzanne Rumi, Consumer; Michael Sieders, Primary School Program Manager, Camp Quality.
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, Founding 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, Different views of cancer; page 24, Answering key questions: Are you going to die?; pages 26 -27, Involving the school or preschool; pages 30 -31, Prepare for hospital and treatment centre visits; and page 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, Children’s Hospital Westmead, for her contribution on page 18, When another child has cancer; Diane McGeachy, Hobart Counselling Centre, for contributing material for page 38, Spending one-on-one time; and Dr Ranjana Srivastava, and The Guardian for permission to adapt €œHow do you tell your children you have cancer? €_x009d_, on pages 21 and 47 – full story is available at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/29/how-do-you-tell-your-children-you-have-cancer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
The information on this page is also available for download.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment