Cancer in the family

Talking to your children

Cancer touches the lives of many people. Every year in New Zealand, approximately, 25 percent of those diagnosed with cancer have children under 18 years old. When you are diagnosed with cancer, thoughts of your own wellbeing are quickly followed by thoughts or concerns for your children. Although this information has been written for parents, it is equally relevant for any family members, caregivers or kaiāwhina who are significant in the life of a child.

Children and teens can learn to cope with your diagnosis and the changes and challenges it will mean for your family. They will cope more effectively when they know what to expect. This starts with the important first step of sharing what you know. Experience shows children can cope with the situation and cope more effectively if they know what to expect. This information has been developed to support you in the difficult task of talking to your children about cancer. It has been divided into four parts:

Talking to your children about your cancer

The first section covers the why, who, when, how and what to tell a child. There are some examples of what a parent or caregiver might want to say. It includes typical responses of children according to different ages and developmental stages.

Coping with the changes

The second section includes information to help you to think about your children’s thoughts and feelings. We suggest things to say and do, depending on the ages and developmental stages of your children. We cover some issues you may want to consider if you are not going to recover, and how you and other adults can help your children face the future. It includes comments on the value of keeping life as normal as possible.

Sharing experiences, good and bad

The third section is about sharing experiences, good and bad. It contains suggestions on activities for your family/whānau, particularly things to do if a caregiver is in hospital. The emphasis is on positive approaches that should help families strengthen ties and express their love for each other.

If you’re not going to recover

The forth section is about talking with your child(ren) about your prognosis, your plans for who will care for them, and ideas for providing them with ‘heirlooms’, such as photo albums and recordings.