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Cancer doesn’t just impact one person, it impacts an entire family. If you have children, your natural instinct may be to protect them from the news of your diagnosis. Yet, cancer is not something you can easily hide, nor should you do so. Keeping such a secret can cause additional strain on you and your family at a time when you need to focus on healing.
Avoiding the subject of cancer does not prevent children from learning about it another way. Although they may not show it, children of any age can usually sense when something is wrong. Like adults, children can pick up on tension and stress and are likely to notice a change in the family routine.
If they are not told the truth about a parent’s illness, children can become scared. They may use their imagination to explain the changes around them. Children are also likely to eavesdrop on conversations or receive misleading information from sources like television or the Internet.
Without the correct information, children may:
Each child responds in his or her own way to the news of a parent’s cancer diagnosis. They may experience feelings of disbelief, anger, uncertainty, guilt, fear, and/or worry. You know your child better than anyone else. You can expect your child to react in ways typical of his or her age, personality and past behavior. Upon hearing the news, your child may:
Furthermore, how your child reacts to your cancer diagnosis will depend on how you and others handle the situation. The way you present the information, including your words and emotions, will play an important part in how your child copes with the news.
Your child’s age, coping skills, constitution, and level of maturity are important factors in how you approach the situation. Children of any age may regress or act younger when under stress. Their behaviors may become exaggerated for a period of time. For example, a recently toilet-trained child may start having accidents. Children who have problems paying attention in school may have even more difficulty concentrating than before.
Depending on their age group, the following are ways your children may handle your cancer diagnosis:
Talking with your children about your illness may be one of the most difficult things you've ever had to do. However, reaching out to your children and openly sharing your feelings can be an important first step in helping your family cope with the situation.
When your children know the situation, it can bring you a sense of relief and, at the same time, help reduce their anxiety and fear. Talking with your children also allows you to control the presentation of information so you can create a more accurate and hopeful picture for them.
Furthermore, sharing emotions can help your whole family become closer and discover inner strength and love for each other. Your child will learn that you are there for support and they can count on you to be honest with them. Most of all, they will learn about how families can pull together during difficult times and overcome challenges.
Talking with your children about cancer can be very difficult and upsetting for both of you. It can be even more of a challenge when you are dealing with your own feelings of fear and uncertainty. You may feel unsure about what to tell your children, when to share this information, and how to tell them. Understanding how to talk with your children about cancer can help you move forward as a family as you all begin this journey together.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS REPORT ANY CHANGES IN YOUR CHILDREN’S BEHAVIOR TO A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL IMMEDIATELY.
NOTE: THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED NOR IMPLIED TO BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL ADVICE. ALWAYS SEEK THE ADVICE OF A QUALIFIED HEALTHCARE PROVIDER REGARDING CARING FOR CHILDREN DURING CANCER TREATMENT.
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