Talking with Your Children about Cancer

January 18, 2019

iStock857895554_africanamerian mom and daughter talking_350

Cancer affects the entire family and telling your children you have cancer is not easy. Talking to your kids about your diagnosis and helping them understand cancer is important. Children try to understand and find ways to cope, but they may lack the skills to deal with your illness on their own.

Supporting children through the process provides comfort and helps them adjust to change. Honest communication helps a parent respond to their children’s needs in a healthy way. However, not communicating may cause additional problems. Tell the simple truth even if it is a difficult and scary thing to do. The truth helps children cope with everything that is happening and builds trust. Finding a balance between sharing and shielding is valuable and avoids adding unwanted stress. Children process emotions and handle stress differently than adults. You know your children better than anyone. Trust your inner sense on how best to support them through this process.

Tips for talking with your children:

  • Create a safe space to share and express feelings. 
  • Set the tone. Your choice of words and tone help to deliver positive and reassuring messages.
  • Use age appropriate information about your diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • Provide your kids with reassurance and emotional support.
  • Encourage your children to share their feelings.


Children’s Lives Include Moments of Bravery (CLIMB) is a program that provides emotional support for children who have a parent or primary caregiver with cancer. Children age’s six to eleven are eligible to enroll. A parent support group takes place at the same time as CLIMB. Parents learn healthy ways of helping their children cope with a cancer diagnosis. Both groups are free of charge. For upcoming dates and more information, please contact Danielle McLaughlin at 425-313-4224.

Each Cancer Education Center has a loan library that includes books for children. Complimentary educational material is also available for how to talk to your children about a cancer diagnosis. For more information, please call 206-386-3200.

Patients at the Swedish Cancer Institute also have access to family support including coping and communication strategies through Oncology Social Work Services. To connect with your social worker, call 206-386-3228.

Topics: Cancer, Kids