In the US, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men will get cancer during their lifetime, making it very likely that at some stage or another, our children will come across a cancer diagnosis in someone they know. As parents, it is our job to protect and to educate our children about the world they are growing up in, and so it is important that at some stage we teach them about this devastating disease so that they can understand a cancer diagnosis if it occurs in a relative, friend, teacher or other people that they know.
Before bringing cancer up with your children it is important that you understand yourself what is cancer and that you have practiced your response to potential questions that your children may have. Don’t worry if you don’t know the answer to one of their questions, you can always sit down and research the answer together.
Assess what they already know
Children often know more than they let on, so start by asking your children what they already know about cancer, to see if it has been discussed in school or if they have talked about it with their peers. This will help you to gauge what information they need to know,
Keep things simple
It’s always best to keep things simple but accurate, don’t lie or alter the truth, but do be mindful that children may struggle to comprehend complex terms. There are a number of great YouTube videos that you can watch together with your children that may help to explain cancer in a visual format.
Prepare for an emotional reaction
Whether you are explaining cancer to your children because there has been a diagnosis that they need to be made aware of, or you are simply preparing them for the future, be prepared for your children to display strong emotions. Getting sick can be very scary for young children and they may be picking up on your own anxieties. Stop and listen to their emotions, try to have them tell you how they are feeling, be it angry, sad, guilty or scared and let them know that these emotions are normal and that you will always be there for them to talk through their feelings.
Don’t forget to talk about cancer treatments
Cancer can be a very scary word and although you shouldn’t play down the severity of the disease you also don’t want to neglect to explain the variety of treatment options that can help put people into remission.
Finally, you may also want to discuss what you and your children can do to help someone if they have been diagnosed with cancer. This could be something as simple as helping them to do their dishes or chores around the house, sending them a card or taking part in a charity event to help raise money for a cancer charity – children will find this knowledge reassuring, especially if someone they know is battling the disease.
This is a contributed post.