Talking with your Children
I have written before about this very important topic, but think that this article from BreastCancer.org is excellent. Many years ago, I participated in a long study with a colleague from Child Psychiatry; we followed children of moms with a breast cancer diagnosis for several years. Here was the not surprising finding: children who were given honest age-appropriate information and whose own schedules are not greatly disrupted do fine.
When I talk with women who are worried about telling their children, I tell them that and then we add a few bullet points:
** Use the real words. Your child will overhear you say "cancer" or "chemotherapy" or "mastectomy" and it will be much more frightening if s/he hasn't heard the same thing from you. Your child will take cues from you, so if you can be fairly matter-of-fact about this, she will be, too.
** Tell them who will be available and taking care of them if there is a day that you are at the hospital or not feeling well.
** Tell the school. It will be important that people there are watching out for any indications that your child is worried or struggling.
** Be very clear that this is not their fault in any way. Especially young children, in the age of magical thinking (say, 3-7 or so) may worry that their anger with you or some kind of bad behavior brought on your cancer. Tell them, too, that it is not contagious, and be sure to include the fact that chemotherapy is a very unique medicine and that the antibiotic they next take will not cause their hair to fall out.
** Reassure them that you will be fine. If they ask directly if you will die, say "no". (clearly this advice is not the same as it would be for a woman who is truly dying) No one drops dead of breast cancer and if, God forbid, you are ever in that difficult situation, there will be plenty of time to tell them and talk then. Right now, the future worries are for adults.
Here is the beginning of the article, an interview with Paula Rauch, MD, and then a link to read more:
When families are adjusting to a breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, and life after treatment, the world can already feel like a pretty unsettled place. When distressing events happen in the world, children can be affected more than parents realize. To children, images of fear and destruction on TV, as well as classroom discussions or adult conversations, can feel very personal. How can you make sure your child feels supported ?
Check in with your child
Start by checking in with your child. Find out what he or she has been hearing, seeing, and thinking — or whether your child even knows about the distressing world event. Even when parents believe their conversations are out of earshot, children often are aware that something important has happened. Without
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Goan open conversation, a child may believe that a parent's health — rather than an alarming world event — is the reason for the unsettled mood at home. Teenagers, too, will be tuned into the conversations and the mood at home, but most parents expect teens will be aware of world events.
Questions such as, "What have you heard about __________?" or "Did you hear me talking to ____ about ________?" are good ways to open a conversation.
If your child is too young to be aware of the news, you may decide not to say any more than this. If your child does know about the recent event, encourage him to share his thoughts:
"What have you heard about it?" "What do you think about what people are saying?" "Are you worried about anything in particular?"
Before you can answer your child's questions and reduce his fears, it's important to first really understand what your child's experience is.