Parents may struggle whether to tell their child about a grandparents cancer. Some reasons to share this information with children are:
- Children as young as 4 and 5 will pick up on the tension in the home.
- Experts say that children who suspect parents of concealing something often imagine that the problem is even worse than it is, because it is "too awful to be talked about."
- Keeping the truth from children may make them feel isolated.
- Honesty helps children establish and maintain a bond of trust.
- The truth, even when it is painful, really is vital. If a child learns of a parents deception, they may have a problem being comforted later by words/actions wondering if the parent is telling the truth.
When a grandparent is diagnosed with cancer, it is going to impact on many people, not the least of which will be the grandchildren. A grandchilds reaction is going to depend on several factors:
- Age of the child
- Relationship with grandparent--frequency of contact with grandparent
- Severity of grandparents disease--if they will get better
- How comfortable the childs parent is with discussing the grandparents illness
- Childs previous experience with an ill person or cancer
The childs parent(s) will need to help the child develop a realistic understanding of their grandparents illness. The child will draw from their past experience with illness. Children are good observers, but poor at interpretation. For example, a friends grandfather may have gone to the hospital and died, so the child might think their grandparent will die too, just because they are in the hospital.
One of the first things the child will think about is how this will affect their life. If the grandparent lives in the same home, for instance, the impact will be very intense. If the grandparent lives a long distance away, the effect will be much less.
Children take their cues from their parents. There is nothing wrong with showing children your emotions about your parents illness. If you never show a child your feelings, chances are they will not show theirs either. Covering up strong emotions may not always be a good idea. A child may become frightened of his/her own strong feelings, instead of accepting them as OK, because "Mom/Dad did/felt the same thing."
This age child feels they have magical powers and what they wish will come true. They may blame themselves that a grandparent is ill because they had bad thoughts about that grandparent. They need to know that nothing they have done caused the illness. Children in this age group do not understand the concept of death.
Children in this age group can become overly concerned about the health of the people they care about. Be aware, so as not to worry them with details. They may have changes in eating, sleeping school work and friendships. They may regress slightly in behavior, such as thumb sucking, or desire to be rocked.
Teenagers may have an especially hard time because their own emotional balance may be on a roller coaster.
Points to stress:
- Having cancer does not necessarily mean your grandparent will die from it.
- You cannot catch cancer from your grandparent.
- You did not cause this cancer. Nothing you did or did not do caused your grandparent to get cancer.
- Just because your grandparent has cancer, does not mean you or your parents will get cancer.
- The way you behave cannot change the fact that your grandparent has cancer and that your parents are upset.
- It is good that you continue with school, sports and your other outside activities.
Points for a grandparent to consider:
- Plan outings that will be memorable for you and your grandchild. Those memories will be cherished into adulthood.
- Take lots of pictures that have you and your grandchild together.
- Complete a memory book of your life for your grandchildren. These books can be purchased at bookstores.
Points for a parent to consider:
- Prepare your child by explaining how their grandparent may act, such as tired, tense, grouchy or preoccupied.
- Approach the grandparents cancer as needing a team approach. Enlist each childs help, utilizing his/her particular abilities or gifts.
- Encourage the child to assist their grandparent by helping prepare food, walking the dog, or mowing the lawn.
When the news is really hard...
Even when a grandparents prognosis is really poor, it is still important to speak truthfully. If a child asks if their grandparent is dying, you can answer that, "They arent dying right now. Many people with this kind of cancer die, but some people get better. The doctors are doing everything possible to help your grandparent to get better." You may want to explain the medical treatment that is being given and how the treatment will make the grandparent better.
Medical terms and ways to explain them:
A word used for more than 100 diseases where cells grow out of control. When cells grow out of control, healthy cells get crowded and die. These uncontrolled cells can spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer treatment that destroys cancer cells by using special medicines.
Cancer treatment that uses high-energy waves that destroy cancer cells.
Problems that come up because of the cancer treatment being given. Common side effects are hair loss, tiredness, being sick to the stomach. Not everybody has side effects.
An operation that removes the cancer.
A small operation to remove a group of cells to be examined under the microscope to see if there are cancer cells.
Community Resources for Coping
- School counselor
- If Hospice is involved, the Hospice social worker
- Check your area for support groups for children affected by cancer