Talking To Your Children About an Increased Risk of Cancer

27 Sep 2019 by Krystal Barter
Talking To Your Children About an Increased Risk of Cancer

This blog will help guide you about some of the common questions parents are faced with in thinking about talking with their children about cancer risk. Such things parents consider include when to share the information, what to share and how much to share? Whilst in some situations information to be shared may be quite specific e.g., there is a known gene mutation in the family, in other situations the information can be less defined. Regardless, many of the general concepts are similar.

When to share information about an increased cancer risk?

Often parents will ask, what age should I share this information with my child? There is no particular
age at which you should share information about there being an increased cancer risk in the family, although it is important to be prepared for questions.

What prompts the discussion can be varied in each family, hence the timing and amount of information discussed differs amongst families. Sometimes events in families or spontaneous questions from children prompt a discussion, whilst in other families there is an active decision taken by parents about when is the right time.

Questions to think about in planning to share information are, if you are ready to share information and if your child is ready to receive it.

Your emotions and readiness

For some parents the process of sharing information feels easy and for others it is harder. It is important to think about how you and your child’s other parent feels and ask yourselves if you are both ready to have a conversation with your child. This is because a child will often follow their parents’ lead in how to think or emotionally respond to a situation.

Many parents naturally experience feelings of guilt, worry, concern, anxiety and fear when thinking about sharing cancer risk information with their child.

These feelings arise as parents often worry about the meaning of the information for their child and how their child might respond. Although it is natural to experience these feelings, if you are overwhelmed, thinking about it every day or your feelings are stopping you from sharing information with your child, it is advisable to seek help before you speak to your child.

Equally if you and your child’s other parent feels differently about how to go about talking to your child this may also be a reason to seek help.

Familial Cancer Clinics, psychologists, your child’s school counsellor and/or your GP are all good sources of help for parents who need support in working through their feelings and approach about sharing cancer risk information.

If as parents you are unsure about how you feel or whether you are ready to discuss increased cancer risk with your child, below is a series of questions that might help you both examine your feelings and readiness.

Useful Questions you might ask yourself

  • How do I feel about talking to my child about cancer risk information (think about thoughts, feelings and/or physical sensations?)
  • What are the reasons I wish to share this information with my child?
  • How do I feel about my partners’ views about sharing cancer risk information with our child?
  • Do I feel comfortable with what specific information to share with our child?
  • Have I thought about what I might say and how I might explain it?
  • Have my child’s other parent and I had a conversation and do we agree on what information to share and how/who will have the conversation?


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