Deciding how or if to tell your (grand)children

You may think telling them might scare, worry or burden them. No matter your reason, know that children, whatever age they may be, often sense that something's wrong. Not telling them could make them feel worried from not knowing what’s bothering you. They may even blame themselves for thinking they have done something wrong. On the other hand, being honest and open with your children or grandchildren about your illness gives them the chance to talk to you about how they feel and how they may be able to help.


Tips for talking to children about cancer

Talking to Children

Learn how to tell children about a loved one’s diagnosis. Learn what to expect and what to say by age groups.

Use words and ideas that are right for their ages.

Give them information at a level that matches their ability to understand.
Telling your children about cancer
Mom Telling Son about cancer

Use their questions as a guide to what they want to know.

Don't be overly concerned about giving too much information. Children, like grownups, stop listening when they've heard enough.

Encourage them to talk about their fears and concerns.

Explain that cancer is not contagious and give other facts that clear up any misunderstandings about your illness. Make them feel comfortable to ask questions and share their feelings. You may need to give your children the same information more than once.
Encourage kids to talk about cancer
Telling kids about cancer

Ask someone else to do the talking.

There may be times when you feel it would be best for your kids or grandkids to talk to someone other than you. Each family has different needs. Your healthcare team can help you decide whether another adult should talk to them.

Ask them for help.

Younger kids can make you get-well cards or bring you a book. Older children can read to you or do extra chores. Children of any age can keep you company or go for a walk with you.
Ask kids for help with cancer
Grandmother with cancer and child hugging

Remind them how much you love them.

Explain that even if you're feeling cranky or tired, you still love them and always will. Tell them how proud you are of them. And remind them it's not their fault you have cancer.

If you need help

Know that we are here to support you every step of the way.

Tips for talking to your adult (grand)children

Your relationship with your adult children or adult grandchildren may change with your cancer diagnosis. You may now need to lean on them for emotional support, help around the house, getting to and from appointments, or assisting with your physical care. For this reason, you may hesitate to tell your adult children or grandchildren because you don’t want them to worry, feel burdened by your illness or be inconvenienced in their already busy lives. Still, it’s important that your loved ones, especially close family members, know about your cancer.

  • Pick a place where you can talk privately.

  • Choose a time when no one is rushed so you can say everything you need to.

  • Tell them what you know as soon as you feel ready.

  • Be honest about how you feel.

  • Give them a chance to offer their help and support, if they can.

  • If you need their help and have no one else to turn to, tell them.

  • Explain the decisions you would like them to make about your care if it happens that you can no longer make those decisions yourself.

For some adult children or grandchildren, this may be the first time they are hearing about cancer or about a serious illness affecting a loved one. They may not react as you expected. Give them time to process your news in their own way and at their own pace.