October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so in addition to taking some time to familiarize yourself with the facts of breast cancer, the topic of cancer may come up with you and your child. Though parents want to shield their children from unavoidable (and unfortunate) truths for as long as they can, knowing when and how to bring up such a complicated and sensitive issue may be daunting. There are a few things to keep in mind.
The American Cancer Society offers over 10 pages of helpful advice on the subject. They specifically address talking to children when someone in their family has cancer, but many of these tips are applicable to any situation involving talking to a child about cancer.
Be Honest and Keep it Simple
Though it might be tempting to avoid the subject altogether, talking to kids about cancer doesn’t have to be so difficult. As with many delicate topics, being honest but not too detailed is the best approach. This prevents children from feeling isolated or powerless by equipping them with the knowledge to make them feel like they understand and better handle the grieving process.
Of course, each kid’s unique situation affects their ability and necessity to understand the disease. For example, the age of your child might impact their ability to understand the full meaning of cancer, and if it doesn’t directly relate to them, they shouldn’t have to.
The more directly a child is impacted by cancer, the more detailed you will need to get in your conversation. A child diagnosed with cancer will need to be prepared for what is to come, and a kid with a diagnosed parent or close family member will need to know how their life will be impacted.
Either way, the depth of subject is where you can help in shielding them from knowing too much about the realities of cancer. A good place to start teaching any child about it is with basic vocabulary related to cancer and its treatment. This way, your kid will have specific words to be able to talk to you about it.
How Will it Affect Your Child?
The next step is to think about if and how cancer will be directly relating to your child. Even if cancer doesn’t directly relate to them, learning about cancer can be helpful for your child. For example, you can teach them to empathize with a classmate whose family member is going through treatment can help your child understand what they are going through. This might also enable your child to be a source of support for their classmate.
If a parent has cancer, then talking about changes that will be made in your child’s life is important. Letting them know how often the parent will have treatments and who will take care of them during that time is a step to prevent a child from feeling completely out of control in a confusing time.
Whatever the case, relate it back to your child and give them the tools and support they need for the situation.
Parents Know Best
Let your child know that they can talk to you about it when they need to. They will probably either ask many questions or come up with questions to ask you later. General tips for communication include reassuring your child and validating their feelings.
Talking to a child about cancer is no easy task, but remember that as their parent you know best. Follow your parental instinct and take one thing at a time. Prepare for it however you can, perhaps by following an outlined guide or simply basing the conversation around what you want your kid to get out of it.