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Talking to children about cancer when a child they know has been diagnosed

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Talking to children about cancer when a child they know has been diagnosed

This resource is for adults who would like to explain childhood cancer to the children they care for who are aged 8-12. The resource includes age-appropriate answers for common questions children have.

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When a child is diagnosed with cancer, their friends and classmates may feel shocked, confused, and sad. For the adults that care for them, it is normal to feel anxious or fearful about what to say to a child and how to explain cancer to them in an age-appropriate way. Sometimes, the most effective way to approaching these challenging discussions is to gauge the child’s current level of understanding about cancer. Asking them how much they already know is a good conversation starter. We can never fully be prepared for what children will ask or how they will respond to discussions about cancer. Being curious, honest and exploring how they feel is often a supportive approach.  

“Cancer is a disease that can sometimes make adults and children sick. It’s rare for children to get cancer and we don’t know why it happens, it’s nobody’s fault, and no one did anything to cause this type of cancer. There are special doctors and nurses who work hard to find the right medicine to help a person get better.  

Below are some common questions primary school-aged children might ask when a friend is diagnosed with cancer. 

  1. What is Cancer?  
  1. Can I catch cancer? 
  1. Does cancer hurt, and can it make you sick? 
  1. Will my friend die from cancer? 
  1. When can I visit my friend in hospital? 
  1. Can I still play with my friend who has a cancer diagnosis? 
  1. Why did they lose their hair, will it grow back? 
  1. Why are other kids making fun of her? 

In the resource linked below, our social workers give their advice on how to answer these questions in an open, honest and reassuring way, while also giving children tools to help navigate their emotions and emphasise the power of empathy and friendship. The resource includes age-appropriate explanations to help you share answers that are appropriate for the child’s stage of development.  

All these elements combined can serve as a foundation for ongoing conversations you may have with your child or student in the future. 

How to talk to children about cancer

Themes covered in this article focus on providing a safe space to approach discussions in an open, honest and reassuring way which can provide children the coping tools to help navigate their emotions and emphasise the power of empathy and friendship. Using age-appropriate explanations can help them better understand how their friend may be coping with cancer. All these elements combined can serve as a foundation for ongoing conversations you may have with your child or student in the future.  

Download the free guide

Download

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