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How to Talk to Your Child About Breast Cancer - Preschool through Grade School

If your children are too young to understand the concept of cancer refer to it as "my sickness." Be sure that your children understand that they had nothing to do with your sickness (or you getting cancer), and that wishes and thoughts cannot make people sick (or get cancer). Assure them that they are not going to get your sickness (or cancer), "children and daddies can't get my kind of sickness (breast cancer). No one can get it from me."
 
If your child seems angry, anxious or frustrated, encourage him or her to play with a toy that will allow expression of anger. Good examples include a pound-the-peg-board, a drum or a fierce animal puppet or toy (tiger, shark etc.). Encourage them to draw pictures. Ask them to tell you about their pictures. Observe when your children draw or play with stuffed animals or dolls. Things that they say or do may give you clues to their thinking and emotions.
 
Don't criticize if they have aggressive play toward their toys. But if they are doing unacceptable things, help them redirect their energies to more acceptable activities. Assure them that its okay to be sad or mad (if they are). You are sad and feel angry too. But continue to be consistent in your parenting approach. You may find that your children regress to more immature behavior. This is normal. When they feel secure again, they will return to more age appropriate behavior.
 
Answer questions that they have simply. Don't offer explanations that are more complicated than the questions they ask. Keep it at their level. Let them know that mommy will be gone to the hospital for a few days. Be sure they know who will care for them when you're not there. If possible have them visit when you are in the hospital, make their visit as entertaining and positive as possible.
 
Taking them to your hospital room
 
Show them how to adjust the bed by pushing the buttons and make you more comfortable. A TV suspended from the wall may be novel. Answer their curiosity questions about equipment simply. Have them bring in special pictures for you, including things that they have drawn or made for you. Be sure that they bring a photo of them and a photo of the whole family for you to have in your room. See if they can think of other things to bring you to make you feel better, like a small bouquet of flowers from your garden or even dandelions from the lawn. These tokens of love will make both of you feel better and important. But be sure they keep their own security object at home, not with you. They will need it.
 
Explaining radiation or chemotherapy
 
If you are having radiation or chemotherapy, you may want to take them to visit the facility so they know where you go and what it is like. You might want to select a day that you do not have treatments so it is just a short trip and you are with them the whole time. Give them a picture of you or something from your purse to keep with them and care for while you are away. Tell them you will be back for them and provide a time frame that is meaningful to them, for example, after a specific activity or TV show.
 
Extra help
 
This is a time of family stress when your children need extra love and attention. It is difficult to meet all the additional needs of children when you have many unmet needs yourself. Try to find someone else who can help give your children special attention. This should be someone who is very familiar to them. If possible, have their dad spend more time with them. Studies have shown that increased time with the non-ill parent helps in the child's adjustment to cancer.
 
You may want to have their favorite babysitter come over for the sole purpose of entertaining them and giving them extra attention. If grandparents or close relatives live nearby, they can be of great help. If your child has a special friend, try to arrange for his or her mother to have your child over to play during this period. Interrupt your children's normal routine as little as possible, and do activities together as a family. Let your children do things for you if they wish, but don't force tasks on them.
 
If your child is in day care or school, be sure to let the teacher know about your cancer. Suggest that she or he alert you to changes in your child's behavior that are of concern. If you are having radiation therapy or chemotherapy, let the teacher know that you will not be available for classroom projects or field trips. Ask her to alert you if contagious diseases (such as chicken pox) begin circulating in your child's classroom.