Worried children aren't asking questions?

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Question from Karen: I told my children, ages 9 and 11, that I have breast cancer. They have never asked any questions since. I don't know if I should talk to them more or not?
Answers - Paula K. Rauch, M.D. Parents are often worried when children aren't asking questions, and it is reasonable to wonder, "Does my child have questions that he/she is afraid to ask, or does my child feel comfortable and not have any additional questions that he/she wants to ask?" It can be helpful to check in at a quiet time with your children and ask them if they have any questions. Sometimes when a child says no, you can come at the question from another angle and say something like, "What do you notice that's different around here?" or "Have you overheard anyone talking about my cancer?" or "Did anyone say anything that was confusing?" Some parents of older children will ask, "What's the dumbest thing that anyone's said about my cancer?" Some children who won't talk otherwise will be quite free to answer this question, and that will begin a conversation. If after checking in with your children they don't express any concerns, think about how the rest of their lives are going. How is your child doing in school? How is he/she doing with friends? Are they eating and sleeping well? Do they seem themselves around the house? If the answer to all those questions is yes, you should feel good about how your child is doing and just reiterate one more time that if they have things they want to talk about, you have time to listen.
Tamara Shulman, Ph.D., FAACP If the answer to those questions about how they're doing is no, and there's an indication that they're distressed, it may be an idea to seek an outside consultation with a mental health professional experienced in this area just to get an objective and professional look at what's going on. Adolescents and pre-adolescents have issues and concerns that express themselves in all sorts of ways, whether a parent is ill or not. This may have nothing to do with your illness, but it's reassuring to find out if there are areas of concern so that the children get help in those areas.

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 Breastcancer.org. 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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