Your first question may be, "Should I tell my child about cancer?"
You may want to protect your child, but children often know when something is wrong.
He may not be feeling well, he may be seeing the doctor many times, and he may have already had some tests.
The child may notice that you are afraid. No matter how hard you try to keep information about your child's illness and treatment, others - like family, friends and hospital staff - can say things that let your child know about cancer.
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Remember, your child depends on you for honest answers.
Why should I say
Telling your child about your cancer is a personal, family issue.
Cultural or religious beliefs will come into play. It is important to be open and honest with your child, because children who do not know about their illness can often imagine things that are not true.
Health professionals generally agree that telling children the truth about their illness leads to less stress and guilt.
Children who know the truth are also more likely to cooperate with treatment.
When should the child be told
You are the best person to decide when your child should know about the disease.
Keep in mind, though, that she will know from an early age that something is wrong, so you may want to say it right after the diagnosis.
Days or weeks of waiting can allow a child to imagine things worse than the truth and develop fears. For that reason, it would be easier to know the truth before starting treatment.
Who should tell my son
The answer to this question is personal.
As a parent, you may feel that you better tell your child.
Some parents, however, find it very painful and other family members or the treatment team can help you. They can either tell your child to help you or explain the illness.
Who should be present
The child needs love and support when hearing the diagnosis.
Even if the doctor explains about the disease, someone that the child trusts and depends on must be present.
Having the support of other family members at this time can be very helpful.
What should be said
The best way to give this information depends on your child's age and what your child can understand.
Being kind, open and honest is usually better.
We will describe what children in different age groups are likely to understand:
• Up to 2 years
They understand what they can see and touch. Their biggest concern is what is happening now, and they worry when they are away from their parents. Very young children are more afraid of medical tests. Many cry, run, or squirm to try to control what is happening. Children begin to understand what is happening around 18 months, so be honest about going to the hospital and explain that some procedures can cause pain. Being honest is very important for the child to trust you.
• 2 to 7 years
When children are between 2 and 7 years old, links relate the events, for example, the disease to something specific, such as staying in bed or not being able to eat certain foods. Children of that age often think that their illness is caused by an action. In this age group, it is important to explain that treatment is necessary to resolve what bothers you and that the disease or treatment is not a punishment for something the child has done, said or thought.
Be honest when explaining about exams and treatments. Remind your child that all of these things are being done to treat their illness and use simple ways to explain the illness.
• 7 to 12 years
The child of this age sees his illness as a set of symptoms, he is less likely to believe that something he has done may have caused the illness. He understands that taking the medication and following the recommendations can lead to a cure. You can give more details when explaining the cancer, but you should still use situations so that your child can understand how a battle between “good” cells and “bad” cells that are tackled with treatment.
• 12 years and older
Adolescents tend to think of the disease in terms of specific symptoms, such as tiredness and the limits or changes in their daily activity, and understand the reason for their symptoms. You can explain cancer as a disease just like all medications and procedures.