Ask the expert: How do I tell my children their dad’s got cancer?

My husband has been diagnosed with cancer and I don’t know how to tell our young children – should I put on a brave face or let them know what’s going on?

Julia Ross, head of cancer care at Bupa UK , says: “One in two people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer, so it’s something many families will face, unfortunately. It can be a stressful, busy time with lots of decisions to make – and deciding what and how to tell your children can be difficult.

“In fact, our research has shown millions of parents in this situation delay telling their child about a loved one’s diagnosis, while others decide to keep it secret. Understandably, many parents don’t want to worry their children, and are concerned about the impact of the news on their child’s mental health or school life.

“Based on my professional and personal experience, I’d say being open is often the best approach. However, each child is unique and will respond differently. You’ll know them best and should take your cues from them.

“Children are very intuitive, so it’s likely they’ll sense something’s wrong. For some children, being kept in the dark may lead to additional stress and anxiety, imagining things are worse than they are or that something’s wrong with them.

“If you decide to tell your children, encourage them to ask questions – misinformation from friends or from the internet may cause unnecessary worry.

“Don’t feel you have to put on a brave face – it’s important to show your children that it’s OK to feel sad. Seeing adults hiding their emotions may make them feel other family members don’t care, or that it’s not OK for them to be upset.

“When someone close to them is unwell, children may struggle at school and become withdrawn. I’d advise letting your child’s school know the situation so their teachers can support them and understand if they’re struggling or acting differently.

“Finally, one of the most important things you can do during this time is to spend quality time together as a family. Children need to know that despite their parent’s illness, they have a strong support network of people who love them and are there for any questions they have.”

- Press Association

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