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

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What if people ask my child about my illness?

You might also prepare your children for when people ask questions about their parent’s illness that they don’t want to answer and rehearse with them what they might say. Questions about a parent’s cancer can make kids uncomfortable if they’re not ready 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:

    Maybe you can ask the teacher or the nurse about that.

    Thanks for asking, but it’s kind of hard to talk about this at school.

    I don’t know the answer to that question.

If adults or family friends ask about the cancer:

    Thanks for asking, but I’m not sure how to answer that.

    You might want to ask Mom or Dad (or name another adult family member).

    I 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’s 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 stark, as some are, it can still 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 dramatic and many people react negatively at first. Looking in the mirror is a constant reminder for you that life is not the same – your child sees that every time they look at you, too. The way you react will affect the way your child reacts. Although both you and your child may be upset about your hair loss, remind them that the purpose of the chemotherapy is to get rid of the cancer cells. Although you look very different, it’s only for a short time, and 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 and coping with the hair loss, they will do the same.

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, because teens tend to think constantly about appearance and are afraid of looking foolish or being different. With a little advance warning, it’ll 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.


Last Medical Review: 01/29/2015
Last Revised: 04/27/2015