Talking With Kids About Cancer

Dec 9, 2011

NASW News’ “Social Work in the Public Eye” highlighted a column written by Elizabeth Wood for the Newark Post in Delaware.

 “The more you know about cancer, the less anxious and better prepared you’ll be to talk about it with your child,” said Wood, who is a clinical social worker for the Division of Pediatric Hematology/ Oncology/BBMT at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

Elizabeth Wood

She noted that cancer affects about 14 of every 100,000 children in the U.S. annually. “A child diagnosed with cancer will have many feelings about the changes affecting his or her body, and should be encouraged to express any feelings, concerns or fears,” Wood stated. “Honest communication is a key component to helping a child adjust to a serious medical condition.”

Children need clear and honest answers to their questions that they can comprehend.

“Parents can also prepare their child for any treatments-and possible discomfort that might go along with those treatments-by reminding them that the hospital and medicine may feel frightening, but they are helping to fight the cancer,” she wrote.

If a child’s loved one is dealing with a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to help reduce the fear of the situation with honest communication.

“Provide your child with opportunities to express his or her feelings and re-assure them their feelings are never wrong,” Wood stated. “It’s also normal for your child’s feelings to change frequently over time, so be available to discuss any questions or concerns your child may have. If you don’t know the answer to his or her questions-don’t panic. Tell your child you don’t know the answers, but will ask someone for them.”

The column noted that many hospitals offer support groups and services for children dealing with a loved one’s cancer diagnoses. “A social worker can facilitate discussions designed to help children talk about their feelings, while also giving your child an opportunity to meet other children with similar family situations,” Wood stated.