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Children and Understanding Cancer

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February 4 is World Cancer Day. When we talk about cancer, we adults often break down hearing about the diagnosis. Imagine the impact it has on kids (who have been diagnosed with cancer or have to see a parent/grandparent/guardian/ relative or friend having it). There can be lots of questions and thoughts in their minds. It is to be noted that the understanding of cancer varies from age to age. Hence, it is important that you have correct information to go by if you have to talk to your child about it.

The Cancer Research UK mentions that –

  • Very young children don’t really understand illness or cancer. But they can pick up on your feelings and will notice physical changes.
  • Preschool and young primary age children have a basic understanding of illness. They often worry that something they have done has caused cancer. Or that the cancer is catching (contagious).
  • Older children have a better understanding of how the body works. They are beginning to understand that people can have serious illnesses.
  • Teenagers might understand in more detail about cells and body organs. But older children and teenagers can still have mistaken beliefs.

Talking to your children means you can find out if they have misunderstood anything. You can then offer them the correct information, reassurance and support.  

If you keep it a secret from your child or give vague answers, it does not help. Children are sensitive enough to catch on the prevailing interactions in the family and can notice subtle changes. The right thing to do before you talk is to –

  • Consider the age of the child
  • Consider the maturity of the child given his cultural situation and setting
  • Their ability to understand what you will say
  • Their ability to cope and their reactions you anticipate
  • Your relationship with the child.

Other than this it is also ideal if you –

  • Talk to the doctor and get information about the diagnosis accurately
  • Take help of Child Care Service Experts or Child Psychologists who have had experience in dealing with kids who have undergone trauma
  • Child Specialists who are associated with the cancer unit of the hospital

You can also take help of the following site for more pertinent details about talking about cancer and coping with the reactions of the children.

This site gives you the terms you can use to talk about cancer and diagnosis – 

The overall point is to be practical and yet authentically involved in dealing with the child’s emotional state at the time of talk. It makes sense to ensure that you need not go into all the details for very young children but for older kids you can definitely encourage them to ask questions (especially the teenagers)

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