How to Talk to Your Kids About Breast Cancer…
Talking to your children about breast cancer, or any cancer, can be one of the hardest parts of any diagnosis. It is natural to worry that you won’t have the right words to explain what you yourself don’t understand fully or that your children aren’t going to be able to grasp what you are sharing with them. Trust your gut- you know what your kids are capable of understanding. When the time comes to have that conversation, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Helpful Talking Points
While it would be easy to put off talking to your children about what is happening to your body for as long as possible, sitting down and being honest with them can be incredibly helpful to everyone involved. According to the National Cancer Institute children as young as 18 months are able to understand what is going on around them and maybe noticing things such as a parent being more tired, gone more often, or feeling sick. By speaking openly and honestly with them you are able to explain everything in the words you chose to use, and you have the chance to incorporate things that are relevant to your life such as prayer or faith-based language.
Cancer is confusing and hard for anyone to comprehend. For children, especially young children, the lack of understanding can be devastating. If your child has no idea what cancer is, take it slow and start with the basics. Explain where the cancer is (even if you have to make that description a bit more kid-friendly) and what cancer is. Make sure they understand that cancer is not caused by anyone’s thoughts or actions and that it is not contagious. If your child is old enough to understand details, feel free to share them! It is okay to give them specifics such as what stage your cancer is in or what your next steps as far as treatment are. Be prepared for your child to want to know what they can do to make it better. Let them know that there are lots of doctors who are working to make sure you get back to normal as fast as possible but if they want to help you feel better they can take on extra tasks such as washing dishes, taking the dog for his daily walk and making sure their room stays clean and organized.
Keep in mind that kids, no matter if they are five or fifteen, will all have their own ways of dealing with being told life-altering news. Assure your child that you are still there for them and give them suggestions of others in their life who can be resources as well. Some examples of other people kids might turn to are, other family members, teachers, or someone at church. Be on the lookout for signs that they are feeling scared or overwhelmed. This might come in the form of your child acting out in school, becoming extra clingy, over-reacting to being asked to do simple chores around the house or even showing no interest in an activity or hobby that they would generally enjoy.
At the end of the day, keep in mind that your child will look to you for an understanding of how to proceed. Being honest with them about what is happening and answering all of their questions helps them to better grasp what you are telling them and reassuring them that you are still there for them if they need you helps keep a sense of normal and comfort through the tough time.