Helping Children When A Family Member Has Cancer: Dealing With Treatment

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What if people ask my child about the cancer?

You might also prepare your children for questions and rehearse with them what they might say when people ask questions about their mom or dad that they don’t want to answer. Questions about a parent’s cancer can put kids on the spot if they are not prepared for them.

If kids at school ask about the cancer, here are some ways that your children can respond to questions they’d rather not answer:

  • you can ask the teacher or the nurse about that.
  • for asking, but it’s kind of hard to talk about this at school.
  • don’t know the answer to that question.

If adults or family friends ask about the cancer:

  • for asking, but I’m not sure how to answer that.
  • might want to ask Mom or Dad (or name another adult family member).
  • don’t know the answer to that question.

The child may want to follow up in a friendly way with talk about school or an offer to play if another child is asking. Or they can bring up a new subject not related to cancer.

What if my child seems upset or embarrassed about the treatment side effects?

Children are going to react to the physical changes that your treatment causes. And children’s reactions tend to be unfiltered and at times brutally honest. Trying to prepare them can help, but when the changes are staring all of you in the face, it can be a shock.

Hair loss is a good example. No matter how well you think your children understand that this may happen, when it finally does, they will react. Hair loss is such a dramatic event that many people react negatively at first. Looking in the mirror is a constant reminder for you that life is not the same. The way you react will affect the way your child will react. Although both you and your child may be upset about your hair loss, try to balance those thoughts with a reminder that the purpose of the chemotherapy is to get rid of the cancer cells. Although you look very different, most people think it’s worth it if the treatment works. You can admit to your kids that losing your hair is upsetting, but if your children see you accepting the hair loss, they will accept it, too.

Children can be quite sensitive to the way others react, especially their peers, who are probably very curious about what’s happening. This may be harder for teens than for younger children, since teens tend to think constantly about appearance and are afraid of looking foolish or being different. With a little advance warning, it will be easier for them to accept changes in how you look. Talk to them about what they can say if their friends start asking questions about your health. Assure them you’ll try your best to help them feel as comfortable as possible until things get back to normal.

Last Medical Review: 08/07/2012
Last Revised: 08/07/2012