Just imagining that our child has childhood cancer is scary and having to explain it will be even more so. It is a very delicate subject in which it is mandatory that parents inform themselves well about the disease before saying anything to the child. If they are still lost, they should ask for help from a doctor, psychologist or other professional who can advise them to transmit the information correctly. We must not improvise and we have to know in advance what we are going to tell them.
Here are some guidelines to help you convey this terrible message. Logically, the way we do it will depend on the child’s age , we cannot use the same words and expressions with a seven-year-old child as with a pre-adolescent. Our goal will always be to calm you down and transmit security to you so that you benefit from the treatment as much as possible, because as we have already commented in an article, there is a very strong connection between the immune system and the state of mind, so that if we maintain a positive attitude and calm we will respond better to the treatment because our immune system will be strengthened.
IS IT ADVISABLE TO TELL THE CHILD THAT HE HAS CANCER?
When the child is very young, many parents think that it is not necessary to tell them anything because they will not find out what is happening. But that is only a pretext to avoid a painful situation for both of them . The child will end up realizing sooner or later that he has a disease. He is in a strange environment for him, separated from his brothers or friends, they all have long and sad faces, there are doctors doing tests … It is almost impossible for him not to know it, it is even counterproductive to hide it because children let their imaginations fly and you can believe even worse things.
Today, almost all doctors and health professionals agree that hiding information is not good for treatment and future recovery because the child will be more anxious and scared than if he knows the truth. In addition, when he ends up discovering what is really happening, the child will feel cheated and distrust towards the parents will increase.
PREPARING THE GROUND
You should not wait long to tell them the truth, the sooner the better. It is advisable to let them know as soon as you know the diagnosis. Remember that the child from the first moment will suspect that something strange is happening and the imagination can play tricks on him.
Before talking to him, it is recommended that you ask a professional for advice on how you are going to inform him so as not to screw up, they can advise you on what things to say and what to avoid, but above all, it is essential that you both be there to give the news, so you will convey the feeling that you are a united family, in good and bad. Also think about the answers that you are going to give to the typical questions that are usually asked. If they see you doubting what to answer in the middle of the conversation, you will make them more nervous.
On the other hand, eye contact with him cannot be absent, you will have to stay close and allow him to express himself however he wants, to cry, to scream, to get angry … it is good that he expresses his anger or frustration. Support him and explain that it is normal for him to feel this way.
ADAPT THE INFORMATION TO YOUR AGE
To explain what childhood cancer is, we have to adapt both the information we are going to give you and the language used.
– If the child is less than 2 years old, he will not understand what childhood cancer is, he will know that something is not right but little else. It is vital that you try to stay by his side at all times and if this is not possible, give him a toy or stuffed animal that will give him security when you cannot be with him. You also have to inform him in a simple way of what they are going to do to him and that there will be some moments when it will hurt but that in the long run it will be good for him, it is better not to say anything because otherwise mistrust towards you and there will be possible reproaches in the future.
– From 2 to 7 years we have to expand the information we give them. They already understand the concept of disease (although they believe that the house of disease is external, like a cold) and it is our obligation to provide them with all the information they need. You can not miss informing about the treatment they are going to receive and the reason for that treatment. Tell them in a simple way what you are going to do to them and how that will help them get good.
On the other hand, make it clear that cancer has nothing to do with their behavior , many children believe that they may have contributed to their disease by something wrong they have done and feel guilty.
– The preadolescence . At this stage, children may already have some concepts of what cancer is from comments they have heard from adults, on television, or even from classmates. They also know that there are diseases that appear from internal causes. Explain better what the treatment will consist of and encourage him to talk to the doctor to dispel any doubts he may have.
– Adolescence onwards . Here you will fully understand the concept of childhood cancer and it is important that you feel treated like an adult. That does not mean that he does not need your support and unconditional love. It will surely seem incredible and unfair to you that at this age you can develop a tumor. We have to help him express his anger but not overwhelm him or be on top of him all day. We have to let him or her come to get us . On the other hand, from the age of 16 you can take part in treatment decisions and feel that you have “more control” over your disease .
WE MUST ANSWER THE QUESTION, AM I GOING TO DIE?
The theme of death produces fear and anxiety, in children it is greater. As we said before, children fill in with imagination everything they do not know . They are still cognitively immature and do not have the necessary resources to understand death like adults, so they will live it with greater nervousness and sensitivity.
If a child discovers that he is going to die, he will suffer a lot, but he will suffer even more if he sees that he is alone and that he does not have anyone sincere with whom he can talk and share his fears . And it is that children, no matter how young they are, end up intuiting it, suspecting it … Whether we want to or not have the right to know the truth, to hide it or sweeten it is to crush their intelligence and dignity as people.