Side Street Style: How to talk to children about cancer

Side Street Style

A family travel and lifestyle blog

13/10/2017

How to talk to children about cancer




So this post deals with a more sombre topic than usual but it's something that has been on my mind and have had to deal with lately so I wanted to share my experience on talking about this subject in a sensitive an respectful way to your children. Earlier this year I lost one of my oldest and dearest friends from South Africa to colon cancer, she was only 32 and despite losing my Aunt to breast cancer a few years prior this one was hard for me to get my head around, it was all so unfair.

My eldest son luckily had the chance to meet my best friend when she was over here with her boyfriend and we all met up in London before the cancer diagnosis. When I found out about the news my son knew who I was talking about, he knew she was ill, he knew she had cancer but children always look to the positive, he just kept saying to me "she is going to beat it right, beat the cancer". I didn't want to scare him but as the end came near I didn't want to lie either so softly warned "maybe not, maybe not this time".

I didn't want things to be a massive shock and also I knew I would be upset when that time came and I didn't want to have to hide it all because grief like that is hard to hide. Unfortunately a few weeks ago I found out another one of my eldest friends has terminal cancer, again I was hit really hard but what is hard to swallow is the fact this is a part of life, at some point cancer will affect your life in one way or another and when it does some kind of discussion needs to take place with your kids.





It’s difficult enough for adults to come to terms with cancer. But it’s even harder to make a child understand what it is and what it all means. From my recent experience I feel the best course of action is to be open and honest about what’s going on.

So how should we approach the difficult topic of cancer and why you shouldn’t keep the news a secret

Children aren’t ignorant to the world. They can detect changes in the people around them. It’s also possible that they may overhear conversations. What worries them is not what the news is but what news is being kept from them. They may jump to conclusions and assume a piece of news is something serious about them. That’s why we should never keep secrets from our children because it’s only going to make them worry more than hearing the actual facts.

How to Use Language Correctly

The way to use language is to use the same language when talking to every child. Information will be shared and you don’t want anyone to be misled or confused. Obviously, the younger the child the simpler the explanation should be. We also need to take care to not gloss over too much about what cancer actually is. Make sure you use the word ‘cancer’. Don’t try to look for a substitute because in the longterm that only causes confusion especially if they overhear a conversation.





Breaking the Myths of Cancer

As we said before, kids talk. But what they’re saying isn’t always correct. Unfortunately, those misconceptions and myths are what cause even more stress and worry. Here are some of the myths you need to dispel as soon as possible especially as they may seem obvious to you but they won't necessarily be to a child.

Cancer is Contagious – This is not like seasonal sniffles. Tell your child that they can’t get cancer by being around the family member that has been diagnosed. It’s easy to keep their hearts, brains, lungs, and eyes healthy just by eating healthy and staying active. They have nothing to worry about.

It’s Their Fault – Some children get it into their heads that this is somehow their fault. Make it clear that this has nothing to do with them.

You Know the Answers – It’s okay to admit that you don’t know the answers or whether someone is going to get better again. Whilst having a positive outlook it can also be dangerous to say a family member is going to get better when you really don't know if that is going to be the case.





Emotions aren’t a Problem

Make it obvious that emotions aren’t a problem for children. They should be allowed to cry. This is often why we don’t want to tell our children the truth. We don’t want to see them dealing with extreme emotions.

However, think about it like this. How are they going to feel if you say nothing and a close family member passes away one year from now? You don't want to cause resentment because you didn't say anything in the run up. With cancers like mesothelioma having an average life expectancy of 12-21 months, this is not unlikely. One really needs to find the balance between saying positive and supportive but also somewhat realistic as well.


Talking to Children about Cancer

It’s tough to talk about cancer with anyone. With children it’s even harder because they are not as emotional mature as adults and you also have to put on a strong front so you don’t upset them even more. Everyone deals with things in different ways but if your put in a situation where you have to bring it up it's probably better to do it sooner rather than later depending on the situation.

Supported post, sharing my recent experiences of having to deal with losing closes friends and having to explain this to my children. 

9 comments:

  1. 32 is so young! I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m sure others in this awful situation will find comfort and use in your post

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    1. It really is so young and very sad. Thanks so much for the kind words


      Laura x

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  2. I am not sure I would even know where to begin but I agree its important to be honest with the kids.

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    1. It's really hard, I feel because my son knew her it was only fair to let him know what was going on

      Laura x

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  3. I am so sorry to hear about your friend. Isaac came home the other day worried because Daddy had grey hair and he thought that means he had cancer - no idea where he got that from

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    1. Kids do think the strangest things sometimes don't they. Thanks so much btw

      Laura x

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  4. I'm so sorry for your loss, that is just devastating. This is so helpful to those struggling to explain cancer to their children. Much love. xx

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    1. Thanks, it was hard but I agree it's important to explain to kids what is happening in a sensitive and respectful way

      Laura x

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  5. Such an important and difficult thing for children to understand

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Lovely comments

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