Cancer Counseling Hotline
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Telling children that a parent or loved one has cancer can be tough. Counsellor Jaime Yeo from Parkway Cancer Centre gives some tips on how to go about it.
While it is natural to want to protect your children from the difficult news of cancer, being open and honest with them is usually the best approach. However, it is important to consider their age and personality before deciding when, what and how to tell them. As children may hear about cancer through their friends, mass and social media, it is important to find out how much they already know, so that you can correct any misconception or inaccurate information they may have. Being candid yourself, can also encourage children to express their feelings and concerns, which gives you a chance to address them as soon as possible. Children are observant and can suspect when something is wrong, from any sudden changes in their home or family routine. So it is better to be honest with them, rather than leave them guessing, which could make them feel more distressed.
You don’t always need to explain everything to your children in one sitting; indeed, it may be more than they are able to handle. Depending on their reactions and level of understanding, you may want to talk to them about the cancer over a few conversations. This will give them time to take in the difficult news, process the information, ask questions, and share their feelings. You may even want to consider having separate discussions if the children are far apart in age or have very different personalities. It also helps to choose the right time and a comfortable place for your discussions.
Always use simple language and avoid medical jargon. For younger children, you may need to repeat certain information to ensure that they have understood you correctly. Generally, the younger the child, the simpler the language you should use. For example, you can tell an older child that “chemotherapy” is needed, but with a younger child, use the term “medicine”. Naturally, older and teenage children will be able to grasp more complex and detailed explanations about the cancer and treatment involved. For younger children, consider using visual tools such as story books, toys or illustrations to explain cancer as well as to encourage them to express their feelings. For example, if a child is familiar with video games, you could liken cancer to the “bad guys” and chemotherapy as the “weapon” to kill the “bad guys”, and explain how sometimes the “good guys” can get injured in the process, producing side effects. Or, you could encourage children to express their feelings through music, art, play or journaling. Whatever you do, don’t lie to children or make promises that you cannot keep. If there is a lack of certain information, assure them that you will tell them the truth as you get more details. Also, don’t be afraid to use words like “death” or “dying” for advanced end-of-life situations. Avoid words like “sleep” and “resting”, because children need to know the permanency of death.
Children’s needs may differ depending on their age, personality and maturity level. Generally, younger children will need more reassurance that their needs will be taken care of – to help them feel secure, safe and loved. So try to establish a routine as much as possible, and communicate changes to them in a reassuring way. Children may ask questions such as: Will the cancer spread? Did their bad behaviours cause it? Will their parent die? What will their friends think? What should they tell their friends? Where possible, address the concerns that they have as soon as you can. Older children may worry more about their parent’s well-being. So keep them informed as much as possible, and reassure them that both you and they will continue to be cared for. Give them opportunities to talk and to express their feelings. As older children and teenagers will interact more with their friends and others, encourage them to talk to their friends about how they feel about their parent’s or loved one’s condition.
When to tell them
What to tell them
How to tell them
|POSTED IN||Psychological Health|
|TAGS||cancer tips, managing emotions|
|PUBLISHED 10 SEPTEMBER 2018|