Explaining a Cancer Diagnosis to Your Child

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If your child has just been diagnosed with cancer, there is an overwhelming list of things to consider and accomplish. From scheduling treatments to changing many aspects of your everyday life, the road ahead will be challenging and difficult.

However, one of the first and most important things that you will have to do is explain to your child that they are sick. Providing your child with trust and reassurance can be difficult, especially if you are seeking some reassurance of your own as a parent.

Here are some things you can remember when explaining a cancer diagnosis to your child:

  • If your child is older and has already heard of cancer and formed his own thoughts on the condition, you will need to find a balance between being delicate and being honest. Be open and gentle, but avoid protecting your child from the truth about their diagnosis unless he is too young to understand. It’s important for your child to feel like he can trust you to be upfront and tell the truth.
  • Answer questions to the best of your ability. If your child asks you something that you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know” and then try to find out the answer together. It’s okay to remain positive, but keep a general understanding of all possibilities out in the open.
  • Your child might ask the question that you fear the most – “Am I going to die?” It’s okay to tell your child about the prognosis the doctor has given. Open up this dialogue by discussing the ways that your child’s medical team is going to try and treat the cancer.
  • Turn to your child’s medical team for guidance. This team is a great resource for your entire family, and they are there to make sure you do not have to cope with this alone. They will be able to help you and your child understand the cancer diagnosis and the treatment process. An adolescent therapist might also be available to give you tips for talking to your child, and can make sure that you understand the situation first before you go forward.

Above all, talking to your child about a cancer diagnosis is important. Your child is likely experiencing some symptoms that led to the initial diagnosis and will feel side effects of treatment, but a cancer diagnosis provides your child with a reason for the things that she is experiencing.

While cancer is devastating – and even more so in children – you can make it easier on your child by letting them know that you are there for them and that it is something you will go through together.