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Talking To Your Child About Cancer

When your child is diagnosed with a brain tumor, they may be scared and unsure of what's happening. Below are some ideas to help you talk with your child about cancer.

Preparing to Talk to Your Child

When you talk to your child, you can choose to have someone with you or speak with them alone. The goal is to create a safe and supportive space where your child feels comfortable asking questions and openly sharing their emotions and fears.

When You Talk to Your Child

  • Use words and phrases about cancer your child can understand.
  • Be honest and open with your child about treatment, possible side effects, and your own emotions. A child’s fears can be made worse if they don’t know what is happening, and they can pick up on your fears without you realizing it.
  • Ask your child to talk about their emotions, and let them know their feelings are okay.
  • Talk to your child about planned procedures like tests, scans, and drawing blood to reduce anxiety and fear.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions.
  • Ask your child open-ended questions such as:
    • What do you understand about what I have said?
    • What questions do you have for me about your illness?
    • What can I do to help you?
  • Assure your child that their illness is not their fault and that you’re all facing this diagnosis and treatment together.

Talking to Children by Age

It’s important to talk to children using words and ideas they can understand. Here are some ideas about how to talk to children at different ages:

  • Children under the age of five respond to simple and clear answers
  • Children between the ages of five and 10 can understand terms like “cancer” and “tumor”
  • Children ages 11 and older can be told basic medical information

If you notice any big changes in your child’s behavior or are worried about how your child is coping with their illness, ask their care team for help.

Talking to Your Child’s Siblings

A child’s brain cancer diagnosis affects the entire family. Your child’s siblings may not fully understand what’s happening to their sister or brother and will have their own feelings and questions. They need to know they’re not alone and their fears and feelings are normal. Learn more about talking to your child’s siblings.

Resources to Help You Talk to Your Children

It’s okay to feel unsure about talking to your child about cancer. Your child’s care team can provide you with tools and suggestions, comfort, and encouragement based on their experience.

Many parents and caregivers also find that age-appropriate videos can help. The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Imaginary Friend Society is a series of short, animated videos that talk about cancer-related topics in a kid-friendly way. In the following video, Merlinda the Wizard helps explain the difficult feelings that come with a cancer diagnosis.


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