Talking to your children

Children usually sense something is wrong even if they do not know what it is. Some people avoid telling their children they have cancer. However, when they are not told what is going on, children may imagine the worst. They may also find out from someone else, which can make them feel angry and confused.


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Your children benefit from an open and honest approach. With planning, practice, and support from family/whānau or health professionals, most parents are able to talk to their children about cancer.

• Consider what you will say and how you will say it before the discussion.

• Talk to children in a language they understand—younger children need simple explanations, while teenagers and young adults might ask for more details.

• Reassure them that their needs are important.

• Communicating with children gives them the opportunity to ask questions and express their feelings. Tell your family/whānau and other people close to your children (grandparents, friends and school teachers) about your diagnosis and your plan for talking to your children, so that you all say similar things. Trusted family/whānau and/or friends can also talk to your children about cancer if you feel unable.

Call the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237) for a copy of the booklet, Cancer in the Family. cancer-in-the-family

“ I was 37 and my children were 1, 4, and 6 years old. My wife and I gott some advice about what to tell them. They decided to tell them, “Dad is sick and needs some medicine to help him get well”. We felt this was the right level for their age and ability to understand. Young children don’t need all the details and don’t know what it means anyway.”


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