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How do we tell a 10-year-old?

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My sister is 10. My parents seperated when she was 3 so a divorced life is all she has known. She is very close to my father.

How can I best support her in this? She gets a poker face about things and doesn't really open up about anything. I am worried about how she is taking all of this in.

Dad is a pillar of strength in our lives. I will be able to look back and remember him the strong man he was. I am worried that Emily, if she watched him get sick, will only be able to remember him as ill. What is the right approach to this?

Dad has told her he is sick. We have all sat and had the conversation telling her it was nothing she did and nothing dad did. We have opened the lines of communication with her and I know she knows she can ask whatever she wants.

I just want to make this as least painful as possible and would love advice from anyone who has been in this situation.

Thank you

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I have no real advice, just prayers for you guys.

Our son Jack is 3, and Col and I are as turthful as you can be with a 3 yo. He knows Mommy's been sick for a while, understands that there are still days when she doesn't feel well, and understands that this will probably be around for a while.

If he has any specific question he asks, we answer honestly, whether or not he understands it. I figure if he's smart enough to stump us with some questions, he's at least smart enough to understand some of the answer.

I'm sure there are professionals out ther who can help, and probably a billion peices of advice on google.

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My son is 12 now was 11 when all this happened... its granpa tho and not dad so its kinda different... granpa lives with us and has since my son was 3 yrs old so he has seen the deterioration from a crotchety older man passionate about the lawn to a man who can barely walk across the room

we told him from the starts whats happening from the start...and he comes to us with fears an concerns but he tends to shut it away too... so every once in a while he breaks down

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Maybe some of this may help?



Q&A: Helping Children of adult Cancer Patients

From CancerWise, June, 2005

Should a child visit a parent with cancer in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU)? How do you explain the disease and treatment in a way that he or she can understand?

One person who regularly answers these questions is Martha Aschenbrenner, pediatric outreach manager at The Children’s Cancer Hospital at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

For years, Aschenbrenner directed the M. D. Anderson Child Life Program that provides emotional support to pediatric cancer patients. Now she runs a new program that supports the healthy children of adult cancer patients. Below, Aschenbrenner discusses her role and offers tips to family members on helping children cope.

How can family help children of adult cancer patients?

Be honest with kids in an age-appropriate manner. This means you will give more information to older kids, but for younger kids it will be shorter bits of information and in a more concrete manner.

Tell children:

The name of the disease

Treatment basics

What physical changes might happen

How their routine might change

What they want to know about death

How do you handle questions from children about death?

Don’t be surprised if children ask if their parent is going to die (this is normal). Don’t answer that question with any absolutes. Generally, it is best to tell kids, ‘We hope not. That is why we came to the hospital. The doctors and nurses are providing the best treatment and medicine.’

But never promise children that their parent will not die. This is a good opportunity, if they ask about death, to bring up the topic that all living things die, including people.

Sometimes when parents are worried about how much information to give their children, I ask if they would rather their kids get their questions answered from the Internet or from them?

If a child does not ask questions, is he or she OK?

If a child isn’t asking questions, it doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t want information. Sometimes it helps to sit down with children and say something like ‘You know, if my dad was in the hospital, I think I might wonder about ______. I was wondering if you have thought about that?’ There are times that kids are either afraid to ask questions, or they don’t know what questions to ask. And then sometimes, they really don’t have any questions! So just remind them that any question is OK, and no topic is off limits.

How do you help younger children understand and cope?

With younger children, age 2 to 5, play or books work great. By playing with kids you build a very special relationship with them. Sometimes through play we can visit with kids and find out what they understand or misunderstand about the disease. We can see how they might be feeling.

Child life specialists and psychologists alike use play as a way to converse with kids about what is going on. Reading stories gives younger children an opportunity to talk about the illness while relating it to the character in the story… very safe for them.

For older children, ages 7 and up, I encourage regular family meetings to discuss the latest doctor visits or any new information. I also recommend keeping a notebook someplace central, so kids can write questions or concerns they think of when parents aren’t around, or that they aren’t quite comfortable voicing yet. It gives them a safe place to communicate their concerns.

Should a child be allowed to visit the ICU? At what age?

Children younger than 5 are restricted from the ICU because they cannot understand what they will see. Otherwise, it is good for children to have an opportunity to see their parent, especially if the parent may not recover. I prepare children for what they will see in the ICU with the actual equipment. Patients are often sedated and I tell them their parent will look like they are sleeping, but might be able to hear them, so they can tell the parent about their day. I also reassure kids that they can leave the ICU at any time.

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GREAT info, Christine!

I would just echo the being honest with your sister. It seems like what they imagine is scarier to them than the truth. With my mom we kept them updated (good and bad) in as simple (but truthful) terms as possible. I've also found that I sometimes had to prompt them. I might even say something like, "I'm in kind of a bad/sad mood today because..." They would often join in with their own feelings, then.

Praying for you and your sister.


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I have no advice to give you for a three year old but think Christine has given you some wonderful advice. My son is 15 so I am able to talk to him openly and he understands what is truly happening.

Please know that I am hoping you find the right answers. It must be so difficult with a child who is that young.

Hugs - Patti B.

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My twin boys were 10 when my mom passed away from nsclc. They were with me when I took care of her. One twin couldn't be in the same room and the other twin wanted to help feed her through her feeding tube. Everyone reacts differently. After my mom passed away, I got diagnosed with the same thing (3 months later).

It was pretty traumatic for them, but I included them in everything. I didn't sugar coat anything, but I didn't scare them either. I told them what was going on in basic terms, and answered their questions as they asked. I found they only asked questions that they could handle the answers to. It was difficult, but I felt including them helped.

Take care,


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Telling and having my kids live with this has been the toughest part for me. You have to tell them for sure as they intuitively know anyways.

Telling mine was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life but it actually went better than I thought it would. Mine are 11 and 13. I told them, and I told them I wasn't going to die, I was going to fight and be strong. And that they have cancer clinics to cure people. I told them that what I needed from them was for them to carry on with their normal lives the best they could and that nothing would change for them. We were playing monopoly within an hour of telling them. And they have been so great, carrying on like troopers.

I have found though that they do worry more than you might think. All kids are different though and deal with it differently. My son was much more worried than my daughter.

I was never more happy than to tell them the good results after my first line treatment. They continue to worry though I know, and the best thing I can continue to do is try to help them not to worry. Kids really don't deserve this...but they have amazed me in how they have dealt with it.

My best wishes to you and your family.

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Thank you so much. It really helps to hear parents tell me what they did. I am not a parent so I don't know how to always do the "right thing". Emily came over and visited with dad for a little bit yesterday. I think it helped her to see that he is sick but is still alive and fuctioning. (and also that he is not avoiding her. They usually see each other once a week and she hasn't been over in almost 2 weeks) I am sure she was worried. She asked him about radiation and what it does. And then about chemo. Then she offered to paint dad's head brown again when he lost all his hair. She also offered her red sparkly eyelashes for when his eyelashes fall out. :lol:

I think it bothered dad to see her. She is so full of love and life, I am sure he was reminded of the life he is going to miss. Makes me tear up just to hink about it. Is there anything I can do to help him? Just let him cry? I wish I could take away some of the emotional pain he is going through.

Thanks again for everything. I appreciate it all. You are wonderful :wink:

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have a 14 year old and he was 12 when my Dad found out about his cancer. Dean's problem was the uncertainty of the heart and its ability to with stand the "new job". He was visibly scared for the first while of my Dad napping on the couch or in his bed. He's not good at a poker face or actions. So we sit him down and talk to him and we get nothing in return. He nods and listens and his eyes water but nothing else comes out of it.

The biggest thing I've noticed is that he's constantly got his ear out. So I don't whisper, it seems to be the only way he wants to be kept informed right now. I don't see a promblem with that at all except that it has to be equal information, good and bad, he's hearing. I find that he's very comfortable with this method and as long as he's interested and receiving, I'm quite happy too. When he seems confused, I bring it up to him in a casual enviroment. We have two computers, so I'll go and use the computer beside him, he always asks "whatchya doin?". "Oh I'm writing a note to Popa's family in the East coast to keep them up dated." I'll read it out and purposely miss items that he will correct me on ... "oh ya thanks" I say. Then the rest seems to follow that, it's sneaky but it works. Good or bad he will ask his questions and I will answer, I think it's the face to face part that hurts the most with Dean. I find he gives body language like he's trapped or just flat out uncomfortable. Can't say I blame him!

Maybe that's an option for you? Find a way to eliminate the face to face and you may find she opens up more.


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