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I Have Breast Cancer: How Do I Tell My Children?

Oct 1, 2020 | Expert Insights

Breast Cancer Awareness: How to tell children about a recent diagnosis?

By: Dr. Rebekah Lemmons

As we enter breast cancer awareness month, it is important to remember that this disease has impacts across all relationships. This illness affects the individual, as well as their family and friends. Particularly for children, a caregiver’s diagnosis of breast cancer can be scary and confusing. Here are a few tips on how to address this sensitive topic with children after a caregiver has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

What should we tell the kids?

It is important to communicate honestly and directly with children about what is going on, as children pick up on differences in schedules, the caregiver’s emotional state and related changes as part of this disease’s impacts. Depending on the child’s age, you may provide more or less information on this topic. For example, young children may only need to know that their caregiver is sick and they need to go to a doctor regularly to get medicine to feel better. That can be modified to provide information on the specific circumstances. For older children, they may want more information and have questions. If your child is asking questions, it is appropriate to answer them honestly.

By responding to questions and modeling healthy emotional reactions while doing so, we teach children how to manage difficult emotions, conversations and situations.

When should I talk to my kids?

Talk early and often about this subject. Begin talking to your children as soon as you have had a chance to engage in self-care (see below) and are able to respond in a healthy way to questions they may have. By having conversations early on, children feel prepared. Having regualar check-ins is also helpful, as it allows caregivers to best understand the child’s emotional reactions to this news and continued life changes. This opens the door to share feelings in a health way and to provide a safe space for kids to communicate with their caregivers, which strengthens their relationship with you and increases resiliency. Talk to your children in a safe space, free from distractions and at a time when you can give them your full attention. Avoid having these discussion around other people or when you or your child have other engagements immediately before or after, as this allows time to process emotions as needed before engaging in other activities or with others.

Notes for caregivers

One of the best ways to help children during this time is to remain calm, regulated and able to show emotions in a healthy way. It is great to model feelings management by showing children how you cope with this difficult news. To do so, consider finding your own support. Seek counseling, consult a trusted friend, take time to recharge, and allow yourself to reflect and cope with your own emotional reactions.

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