Talking to your child

Parents tell us that one of their biggest concerns after diagnosis is what to say to their child about their cancer and its treatment. Children all have different levels of understanding, and it can be hard to know what information they need and which words to use.

Knowing what to say

If you aren't sure what to say, or how to say it, start by taking a look at our storybooks for children about cancer. They will give you an idea of the words to use and how things can be explained simply and clearly.

While it's not possible to talk to babies and toddlers about what's happening, your calming, reassuring presence is vital, particularly during medical procedures. Play specialists are also very skilled at using play to help young children understand what is happening.

"We read the Lucy has a tumour book and got to the bit where it says chemotherapy can make your hair fall out. It suddenly clicked… and she said, 'Mummy, is that going to happen to me?'"

Tips for talking to your child

  • Keep it simple and do it gradually – you may need to repeat all or part of what you say several times
  • Be as honest as you can
  • A good starting point can be to ask your child what they think is happening
  • Ask if there is anything they are worried about
  • Ask if there is anything they have not been able to ask but would like to
  • Don't feel you have to have all the answers
  • It's fine if they don't want to talk. Just reassure them that you are happy to talk about it and answer any questions when they are ready
  • Remember to revisit the conversations as your child grows. They may forget some things they were told when they were younger.

Remember, support is always available. You can speak to your CLIC Sargent Social Worker if you need more help and guidance.

Where next?

Updated February 2017, next review due February 2018.