As a co-survivor, it might become your responsibility to tell the children of your loved one about the breast cancer diagnosis. This can be extremely challenging. You may be concerned about upsetting them or worried about how they will react. Even after you’ve shared the news, you may find it difficult to communicate openly at times. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to answer questions. Here are some tips on telling children about cancer.
Talking to young children
If you care for young children (ages 3 to 9) as a parent or grandparent, it may be tempting to shield them from your loved one’s diagnosis. Experts agree that this is not a good idea. Even very young children can sense when family members seem stressed or anxious, or when usual routines are disrupted. They will notice changes in your loved one’s appearance and energy level, and they will know that you are spending time with them at the hospital or treatment center.
Although young children do not need detailed information, they do need honesty and reassurance. Without any direct explanation from you, children may imagine a situation that is actually much worse than reality. Being honest with them builds a sense of trust that will be helpful in facing not only this situation, but also other challenges that life inevitably brings.
Talking to older children
While much of the advice for talking to young children also applies to children in middle and high school (ages 10 to 18), older children have additional information needs. Breast cancer is talked about on television and in other media, so older children are likely to be aware of the seriousness of cancer. In addition to your honesty and reassurance, they may crave more information than younger children do. Also remember that older children may express their feelings in ways that seem inappropriate, such as embarrassment or anger. Providing them with information and helping them know that it’s perfectly fine to keep up with school and social activities while you’re managing the cancer can help them maintain a sense of normalcy.