Talking with our Children
I have written before about talking with our children, but the topic has been active this week in Boston as parents have wondered and worried about how to discuss the bombing and its aftermath with their families. The basic rules, I think, apply to any crisis or problem or difficult situation: use honest, age appropriate information and raise the subject more than once, in a way that can be explored or kept short.
How children react is surely variable and, even as parents who know them well, we may not be accurate when we guess how a conversation will proceed. I have heard all kinds of stories over the past days, ranging from parents who tried (probably vainly) to totally shield their young children from the news to kids who were glued to the television. Some children have seemed unaffected while others have become overtly anxious and clingy, wanting the lights left on at night and needing frequent reassurance that "They" are not going to break into the child's home.
Cancer in the family is a less tangible boogy man, but it surely impacts everyone. My experience teaches me that it is impossible to keep the fact from children for long. You may know the cliche that children are wonderful observers and terrible interpreters of events around them. Even if you have not discussed a cancer diagnosis with them, they surely will notice the charged atmosphere, the ringing telephone, the delivered flowers, and the tense tears. I remember one woman, years ago, who never told her school age daughters about her breast cancer or chemotherapy. Although she wore a wig for months and was quite will, often spending hours in the bathroom, she had convinced herself that they were oblivious. I fear for those girls' mental health and trust in relationships in the future.
This is an excellent bibliography from the University of Michigan Cancer Center. Even if you don't need it now, it is well worth remembering or bookmarking for possible use in the future.
Talking With Children About a Loved One's Cancer
The purpose of this guide is to help patients and families find sources of information and support. This list is meant to provide links to authoritative, up-to-date information sources for patients, families, and caregivers.