Tell the kids without scaring them?

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Question from ChelleL 37: I just found out I have Stage III breast cancer. My kids, age 2 and 5, sense something is really wrong, but I haven't found the words to tell them yet. How can I let them know without frightening them?
Answers - Tamara Shulman, Ph.D., FAACP I think that children have a kind of emotional radar and of course they sense that the parent is upset. Young children may not even be able to verbalize what they're feeling, but they know there is something wrong. In this situation, it would be very important for you to get some emotional support for yourself to help you clarify and cope with your own feelings so that you can communicate more clearly and effectively with your young children. The 2-year-old may not have the complex language to understand a lot of verbal explanations, but can understand a simple explanation. I think it's important to use the word "cancer" when you're feeling a little calmer yourself. Talk to them about you having cancer, and that you have very good doctors and that you are going to have treatment for this. With children this age, the emotional tone is so important, as the complexities of diagnosis and treatment are not what they need. Kids are often very concerned about who will take care of them while Mom is having treatment. So let them know how Mom will get through the treatment and who will be taking care of them—taking them to school, making their meals, etc. It will help the children thrive to know their needs will be met. That will be reassuring for them. I see it as very important in this situation for you to get a lot of emotional support as well.
Paula K. Rauch, M.D. One of the things that helps young children to feel their life continues to be safe and secure is maintaining regular routines and schedules. It's easy to make errors of kindness at times like these and let young children stay up later, have too many choices at meals, or offer them lots of toys and treats. But actually young children feel reassured by predictable and structured environments. Paying attention to regular mealtime and bedtime and organizing a familiar support system is really important.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Talking With Kids about Breast Cancer featured Paula Rauch, M.D. and Tamara Shulman, Ph.D., F.A.A.C.P. answering your questions about specific ways to support your kids while you undergo treatment, and different communication strategies for helping your kids to feel secure during a time of uncertainty.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in May 2006.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

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Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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