It’s important to communicate openly with children when a family member has cancer, as children understand cancer differently than adults and teens.
“Don’t be afraid to use the word ‘cancer’ when talking to your children,” says CancerCare professional oncology social worker Nicole DiMartino. “If they aren’t told the truth, they might imagine that things are worse than they really are, or even that they themselves are the cause of the cancer.”
CancerCare offers tips for communicating with children about cancer in our updated fact sheet, “Helping Children Understand Cancer: Talking to Your Kids About Your Diagnosis.” Among the suggestions offered:
- Give your children accurate, age-appropriate information. If you don’t talk to your kids about cancer, they may invent their own explanations.
- Set the tone. Use a calm, reassuring voice even if you become sad. This will help children see that you are trying to cope, and help them do the same.
- Allow children to participate in caregiving. Give them age-appropriate tasks, such as bringing the person with cancer a glass of water or extra blanket. These small gestures are meaningful ways for children to provide comfort and demonstrate their love.
Talking to children about cancer isn’t easy, but CancerCare’s professional oncology social workers are here to help. We offer free services that help families cope with a cancer diagnosis, including counseling, support groups, and publications.
Learn more about how we help children cope with a cancer diagnosis.