Cancer can touch any person at any age. But when a young person receives a cancer diagnosis, it can be especially scary – not only for the parents, but for the child, too. Hearing this news is life-changing for the whole family, and because children’s emotions can often be fragile, it’s important to tell a child that they have cancer in a delicate way. Whether it’s leukemia, ewing sarcoma, or another kind of cancer, there is no easy way to break the news. However, there are things that can help the conversation go smoother.
First, tell them the truth. As parents, it’s natural to want to protect your child from wrongdoing or harm, but not telling the full truth can lead to problems later down the road. Honesty is very important and being straightforward with the child is helpful, no matter what age they are. Here are some tips on how to talk to your child about a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatment, based on their age.
Children up to age 4
Children that are under 4 years old oftentimes have a hard time understanding why they are sick, and sometimes they can think that it’s because of something they did to make them that way. If you have a child under age 4 that has cancer, reassure them that it’s not their fault and they didn’t do anything wrong. Next, be aware of how your reactions about the cancer could be perceived by your little one. It’s natural to be upset and cry, but the child will feed off that and it could cause more confusion. If you do cry, it’s okay, but explain that you’re upset about the illness and not at them.
Children ages 4 to 7
Kids in this age group are more aware of their illness, but they are likely more concerned about being away from their parents rather than being concerned about the cancer itself. When you’re talking with your child, reassure them that you will be with them every step of the way – at all the doctor appointments, during each of the cancer treatments, and through each hospital stay, if there are some. Explain to them that you are there to help bring them comfort and that you’ll be there for them, no matter what.
Children ages 8 to 13
Children in this age group will often try to understand what’s going on in their body and may ask questions about that. There are many different medical terms that your child will hear during doctor appointments and hospital visits, so it’s important to explain their diagnosis in a way that they can process. Break down what cancer is in an easy to understand way and explain how treatment will try to make them healthy again. In addition, explaining how their illness will affect their social lives or their hobbies is also important. For example, if the child is heavily involved in sports or other extracurricular activities, you will need to clarify that they will likely need to take a break from those kinds of things for a while, until they are better.
The adolescent years are a time of heightened emotions and an awareness of many different things that are going on in a teenager’s body, as well as the happenings of the world around them. Being honest with your teen is especially important, so here, it’s important to lay out the diagnosis as clear and straightforward as you possibly can. Parents are encouraged to express their own emotions, but also be prepared for the emotions that may come from your teenager upon hearing the news. There could be very dramatic, heart-wrenching reactions, or they could show shock for a while and not say much at all. Be prepared for a wide pendulum of emotions from your teenager, but no matter what, don’t withhold information that you think is important to tell them about. Chances are, they will find out eventually anyway, and it is usually better to have them hear it from you from the get-go.
Talking to your child about their cancer diagnosis is tough, no doubt about it. Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers, but instead, plan ahead by knowing how to deliver the news in the best way that you can and encourage your child that the family and their medical team are on their side and want them to get healthy.
If your child has recently been diagnosed with cancer, and you’re interested in learning more about our team of doctors and our cancer treatment options, contact us today to schedule a free 30-minute consultation.
Watch 19-year-old Gayle talk about her experience being treated at Causenta.
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