TALKING WITH SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN ABOUT CANCER
School aged children (7-12 years) can understand several aspects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan. However, they likely to struggle with the uncertainty and unfairness of the illness. At this age, the critical role of peers makes them very concerned about what other kids think and know. They are quick to believe things they hear from other children or what they read on the Internet. It is important to point out that what your child hears or reads online isn’t always true. They also may be sensitive how their parent’s illness will affect their ability to participate in their normal activities, such as school events and sports.
Conversation Starters About Cancer:
- “I have an illness called cancer. It means some lumps are growing inside my body that shouldn’t be there, and they’re making me sick. I am going to have an operation to have the lumps taken out. Then I’ll have some more medicine to make sure they don’t grow back.
- “The doctors say that Dad has a problem with his blood. That’s why he’s been very tired lately. The illness is called… Dad’s going to have treatment to make him well again.”
To Address Misunderstandings:
- “The doctor doesn’t know why I got cancer. It doesn’t mean that you’ll get cancer too. It’s not contagious”
- “Cancer is a disease of the body that can be in different places for different people.”
- "Even though your friends say that cancer is really bad and I will get very sick, they don’t know everything about this cancer. I will tell you what I know about my cancer.”
To Explain Changes and Offer Reassurance:
- “The doctors will take good care of me. I will have treatment soon, which I’ll tell you about when it starts.”
- “Even though things might change a bit at home, you’ll still be able to go to tennis lessons while Dad is having treatment.”
- “Mum is going to be busy helping Grandma after she comes out of the hospital. There’s ways we can help out, but mostly things won’t change for you.”
- “You don’t have to tell your friends about me having cancer if you don’t want to. But I need to let your teachers know so they understand what’s happening at home.
Keep the conversation going!
Sentence starters can be used to help kids frame their thinking, engage in dialogue, identify feelings, and express concerns. Some suggestions sentence starters include:
Something I’m wondering about is: __________________________________.
Example: “Something I’m wondering about is how will I get to soccer practice when you are in the hospital.”
Could you please explain to me why__________________________________.
Example, “Could you please explain to me why your hair will fall out during chemotherapy”
What should I tell my friends_____________________________________?
Example: "What should I tell my friends when they ask about your cancer?"
I understand that______________________________________________.
Example: "I understand that you have to go through cancer treatment and maybe very tired or sick."
I would like to help out by: _______________________________________.
Example: "I would like to help out by feeding the dog."
Cancer talk; words to know: https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/cancer-glossary.html
Engaging Kids in Activities:
You can learn a lot about what your child is thinking or feeling through active engagement. Taking a stroll or baking some brownies with your child will provide a cognitive distraction that enables them to relax be more likely to share their feelings. Car rides also provide a private opportunity to listen to your child’s concerns. Other ideas to engage your child:
- Complete a puzzle, craft or color book together.
- Play an interactive board game such as Apples to Apples, Jenga, or Connect 4.
- Fly a kite, shoot some hoops, or blow some bubbles
- Cook or bake together
Kids need a plan so they easily know what positive things they can do when they are feeling overwhelmed or sad. A coping plan enables your child to identify their resources of support and understand different ways to manage their feelings. It is especially helpful to have a coping plan in place at school. Invite your child’s classroom teacher or guidance counselor to help develop a coping plan. This will provide your child with essential emotional support during the school day.
Coping Plan ideas/resources:
Connecting with other Kids:
Developing friendships with other children who are also impacted by cancer will validate your child’s feelings, develop empathy for others, and build resiliency. Please refer to the Camps and Programs section for a list of engaging and supportive activities for your child.