- Cancer Information
- Coping with a diagnosis
- Emotions and cancer
- The others in your life
- Telling children
When you are diagnosed with cancer, one of your concerns might be how to tell any young people in your life. Talking to young kids and teenagers about cancer can feel difficult and overwhelming.
Parents and other adults can feel overcome by their own anxiety and fears, and their first impulse may be to protect children from feeling these same strong emotions. Some parents avoid telling their children about the cancer. Others wait until treatment starts and side effects, such as hair loss or nausea, are noticeable. Most children sense that something is wrong and may imagine the worst. They may also feel angry and confused if they find out from someone else.
Research shows that when someone close is diagnosed with cancer, children usually cope better if they are told about it, in a way that suits their age and stage of development. With planning, practice and support from family or health professionals, most parents and other adults are able to talk to kids about cancer. If you have children, your treatment team can set up an appointment just for them to ask questions.
Try not to pressure yourself – there is no “perfect” way to tell children, and the way children react to your diagnosis and treatment will vary. The important thing is to have open communication over time so there are lots of opportunities to talk.
Older children may be worried about burdening you with how they are feeling, so make sure they have a trusted person outside their immediate family circle who they can talk to about the situation.
Podcast: Explaining Cancer to Kids
A/Prof Anne Burke, Co-Director, Psychology and Allied Health Lead, Cancer, Central Adelaide Local Health Network and The University of Adelaide, SA; Hannah Chen, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Hazel Everett, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, St John of God Subiaco Hospital, WA; Shona Gates, Senior Social Worker, North West Cancer Centre, TAS; Dr Jemma Gilchrist, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Mind My Health and Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead, NSW; Sandra Hodge, Consumer; Dr Michael Murphy, Psychiatrist and Clinician Researcher, Prince of Wales Hospital, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Alesha Thai, Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Alan White, Consumer.
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