The thought of talking to a child about cancer can be overwhelming. Although talking to children about cancer can be a hard thing to do, being honest and including them in what's happening is usually the best approach. When the time comes, you will probably find the conversation less traumatic than you think.
Trying to protect children from difficult news, worry and distress is natural. But not explaining what's happening may make them feel more vulnerable. It's important to give them the chance to talk openly about their fears and worries. If they overhear things, they may interpret things wrongly.
Children know when something serious is affecting the family and people they are close to. They'll notice unusual comings and goings, phone calls and hushed conversations. They may pick up on changes in how you and other adults around them are feeling and behaving. They might also find out about what's going on even when they haven't been told - for example through friends whose families know each other so it's best to be honest and open about what is going on in your family.
You know your child best and will know when the right time is for them to be told. You might need time to come to terms with your diagnosis first or you might want to tell them straight away. Whilst there are lots of approaches to telling your child depending on their age and how you think they will cope, my top 5 tips for talking to children about cancer are-
1. Be as prepared as you can
Make sure you have all the information you need and that you understand it. You may want to think about the questions a child might ask and the words you will use to explain things.
2. Find out what they already know
You can sometimes get very worried about telling them something and then find out they know more than you think.
3. The right time and place
Choose a time and a place when your children are most likely to listen and feel at ease, and where you won't be interrupted. There may be places where you and your children feel more able to talk. Make sure it's somewhere they will feel able to express their feelings.
4. Be honest
It's best to be honest with children. If they think you're being vague or hiding something, they may find it hard to believe they're being told the truth. Don't make things sound less serious than they are. But, depending on your situation, you can be hopeful and let them know that although cancer is serious, many people get better. Tell them that you and your doctors are doing everything possible to get you well again.
5. Use language they will understand
As a parent or someone close to the child, you're the expert when it comes to the child. You know the best way of communicating with them, how they might react and what support they'll need but use words your children will understand. These will vary depending on their ages.
All children will react differently when they are told that someone close to them has cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support provides a range of services to help people affected by cancer. For more advice on how to talk to a child about cancer visit www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/coping/talking-about-cancer/talking-to-children or call 0808 808 00 00.
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