Health Services

Telling Children

Now that Mom's sick, everything at our house is different. We hardly ever eat together as a family anymore, and there's never anyone to help me with my homework or listen to me. Mom used to do that. I feel like it's sort of being left up to me to take care of myself. -Martha, age 13

Telling your children you have cancer, whatever their age, can be very difficult. Putting off telling them only complicates matters. Be direct and honest, and if they have a question that you cannot answer tell them so. Often the fertile imaginations of teenage or younger children think of things that are scarier than the truth. Children have an amazing ability and capacity to deal with the truth. Even very sad truths will relieve the anxiety of too much uncertainty. We cannot stop them feeling sad. But if we share our feelings and give them information about what is happening we can offer them support in their sadness.

Children's Feelings

If you never show how you feel, the chances are your children won't either. Covering up strong emotions is like sitting on a time bomb. A child can become frightened of his/her own feelings instead of accepting them as normal.

  • Some children will try to make up for guilt feelings by being super good and setting impossibly high standards for themselves.
  • Some children will cling to you too much, afraid something will happen if they are not there.
  • Some children will withdraw from you, unconsciously trying to become more independent in case something else happens to you.
  • Some children will resent the fact that they need to help you when the opposite was true before.
  • Some children will laugh and behave badly to cover up their real feelings or their lack of understanding.
  • Some children will be afraid they'll get cancer too.

More assistance and outside organizations can be contacted through links below:

A good resource for children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer is Kids Konnected. Kids Konnected will match a child with another child whose parent has been diagnosed with cancer. They can email each other, be pen pals etc. or call 1-800-899-2866 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Lee's friends: Primary Mission: To offer person to person help and needed emotional and practical support to cancer patients and their families who are facing the crisis of diagnosis and treatment of cancer. All services are free.

  1. Tell your children you have cancer. Do not go into detail or give long explanations. Give the facts, then wait for questions. Answer their questions fully and honestly.
  2. Tell them they cannot catch cancer from you, or give it to their friends.
  3. Tell them they are not responsible for your cancer in any way, through thoughts, feelings, or actions.
  4. Reassure them of your love. Hug them and touch them as much as possible.
  5. Have them visit you in the hospital. Either take a brief tour of the outpatient area or visit you if you are an inpatient. This will cause them to ask questions and dispel mystery and fear in their minds.
  6. Don't tell them not to be afraid. Instead, encourage them to talk about their fears and thoughts. If children are not allowed to express their fears and thoughts they will act out in other ways.
  7. Encourage children to ask questions. Answer each question as simply and directly as possible at their level of understanding. If you do not know the answer, do not guess.
  8. Be prepared to repeat explanations and give the information again and again as children come to greater levels of understanding.
  9. National Cancer Institute:

    Disclaimer -This site is designed for educational purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice or professional services to any party. The information provided through this site should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should contact your health care provider immediately.

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Naval Medical Center Portsmouth
620 John Paul Jones Circle
Portsmouth, VA 23708-2197

*Inspected 27 July 2023
Don't forget to keep your family's information up-to-date in DEERS.