A cancer diagnosis can be very difficult for a family to navigate. It can be especially difficult to tell your child that their loved one has terminal cancer. That said, there are many ways to support your children as they face the challenge of a sick loved one. Learn more about tips you can use when talking to your children about cancer.
Supporting a Child Whose Loved One Has Cancer
Having a loved one who has cancer can flip a child’s world upside down. Most times, this situation is a child’s first time experiencing illness and death.
It is important to provide your child with the support they need during this difficult time. Taking the time to teach your child healthy coping mechanisms and answer any questions they may have about cancer can help them get through this new and challenging experience.
How to Tell a Child That a Family Member Has Cancer
The thought of explaining that a loved one has cancer can be very overwhelming and devastating. Telling your children that their loved one is ill can be very difficult and emotional for everyone involved.
Your child may be upset, angry, confused, or frustrated when they find out that their loved one is sick. Mentally preparing yourself for your child having all these different emotions can help you navigate this topic in a healthy and understanding way.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for the discussion:
Be ready to answer any questions your child may have about illness and death.
Be honest and transparent about death. Use the words “cancer” or “dying” and avoid euphemisms so your child does not get confused or blindsided by technical terms when speaking to others.
Try to stay calm, but don’t be afraid to show emotion — it will show your children that it is okay to be sad.
Ensure your child knows that they are not to blame for their loved one becoming ill.
Make sure to go at your child’s pace, so as not to overwhelm them with information.
Talking About a Cancer Diagnosis
The initial step in speaking to your child is explaining that their loved one has officially been diagnosed with cancer.
Try to use terms your child will understand without being too vague. It is important for your child to understand the truth of the situation. Explain to your child how the type of cancer affects the body so they have a better understanding of what is going on.
Children under the age of 10 will often wonder if they did something to cause their loved one’s illness. Be sure to explain to your child that this is not their fault, and there is nothing they could have done to prevent it from happening.
Here is an example of how you can explain a cancer diagnosis to your child:
“Grandpa hasn’t been feeling well lately. He is sick with a disease called mesothelioma. His lungs hurt, and it makes it hard for him to breathe. I want you to know that this is not your fault. Grandpa can’t spread his sickness to anyone, and we are going to try to get him better.”
Talking About a Cancer Treatment
Once you explain to your child that their loved one has cancer, you will need to explain the treatment process.
Reassuring your child that the doctors are working to treat their loved one’s cancer can help them understand that there is a chance of survival.
Be honest and transparent about the side effects of cancer treatment. Children may not be prepared to see their loved one so weak and ill from their treatment. It is important for your child to be prepared but not scared.
Here is an example of how you can explain cancer treatment to your child:
“Dad’s doctors are going to do everything they can to get rid of his lung cancer. In a couple weeks, he will get something called chemotherapy. The doctor will give Dad medicine through a small tube that will get rid of the sick cells. He might be a little tired and sick after his chemo, but he will be okay.”
Talking About Cancer Prognosis
Although it may be heartbreaking, you must be honest with your child about their loved one’s prognosis.
Be gentle yet truthful when telling your child that their loved one may not have much time left. A child may take this literally and may expect their loved one to pass immediately. Give them an accurate timeline but also mention that this timeline can change and is not final.
Here is an example of how you can explain a cancer prognosis to your child:
“The doctors have tried everything to help Grandma get better from her mesothelioma, but she is very sick. She may pass away soon. I know this is very sad, but your Grandma loves you very much. We are all here for you.”
Answer any follow-up questions your child may have about dying, funerals, or what will happen once their loved one passes. This can help them be prepared for the difficult days that follow the death of their loved one.
Resources to Help You Support Your Child
Grieving the loss of a loved one can cause a lot of sorrow and stress for your child. One of the best ways to support your children is to promote healthy coping mechanisms. This can help your children properly grieve while taking care of their own mental health.
There are many ways to relieve stress and provide emotional support to children who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
Support groups are a great way to meet with other families in similar situations. These groups create a community focused on supporting children during the grieving process.
Online forums are easily accessible if you are unable to attend support group events. Forums act as a platform for millions of people to give advice on how to emotionally support your children during this hard time in the comfort of your own home.
Some of these online resources include:
Children’s Bereavement Center provides free online articles and videos for children to learn coping mechanisms and relate to other children in similar situations.
Grieving.com has forums available for children of all ages that are dealing with the death of a loved one.
The Dougy Center based in Portland, OR has a multitude of online activities and resources for children that are grieving.
Therapy is another great coping mechanism for grieving the illness and death of a family member. Individual and/or group therapy can help children express their emotions in a healthy environment.
Spending quality time with family members is a great coping mechanism when losing a loved one to cancer. Encouraging your child to relive fond memories of loved ones who have passed and engaging in activities they loved can help keep their memory alive.
Get More Support For Your Family Today
It is important to give your child the coping resources they need to get through this devastating time in their lives. Having an open, honest, and supportive conversation about cancer can help your child understand what is happening to their loved one.