Figuring out what’s really up with your parents is child’s play. Just check their text messages or eavesdrop on a phone call. That’s what one child whispered during a support group hosted by oncology social worker Krista Nelson at Portland’s Providence Cancer Institute.
“I’m always amazed at how much kids really do know about what’s going on,” Nelson said. “Even when their parents don’t tell them.”
That’s why it’s important to be real with children when it comes to news as important as a family cancer diagnosis. If you don’t tell your children, they’ll likely either sniff it out themselves, or even make up their own facts and explanations about the big mystery at hand.
“Parents are afraid it’s going to be very hard on the children and they don’t want to share,” said surgeon and author Nathalie Johnson of Legacy Cancer Institute and Legacy Breast Health Centers. “But children sense the stress in the home, and their imagination can take them to far darker places than reality often is.”
Young children might blame their own misbehavior, or worry that cancer is “catching.” Adolescent girls may start wondering about their own risk. And, naturally, everyone will worry about the very worst.