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Information about all aspects of finances affected by a serious health condition. Includes income sources such as work, investments, and private and government disability programs, and expenses such as medical bills, and how to deal with financial problems.
Information about all aspects of health care from choosing a doctor and treatment, staying safe in a hospital, to end of life care. Includes how to obtain, choose and maximize health insurance policies.
Answers to your practical questions such as how to travel safely despite your health condition, how to avoid getting infected by a pet, and what to say or not say to an insurance company.


If you have children, it is advisable to tell them about your condition as soon as you can for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Children have a sense that lets them know when something is in the air. If you don't tell them, they will likely assume it is something they did wrong or somehow caused. 
  • Children will likely hear about it sooner or later in any event. If there is more than one child, they may even conspire to figure out what is going on. Their putting together bits and pieces of information can lead to scary, wrong conclusions.
  • Conventional wisdom is that the best parenting is not shielding children from life but teaching them how to deal with whatever life throws at you.

Tell children as soon as you can. This does not mean, however, that you can't give yourself some time to adjust to your diagnosis first or wait for the results of initial tests.

When deciding what to tell children: 

  • Consider the child's age, the individual child, and what seems right to you. Consider the same factors when deciding whether to prepare a child for any likely change in your appearance.
  • Always use the name of your health condition. Children will likely hear the name at some time in any event so it is better to hear it from you..
  • Let your children know that your disease is not something that they can catch, and neither can your spouse or significant other.
  • Warn children who have access to the internet about misinformation and scary information that doesn't apply to you that they may find. It is preferable if the child tells you about anything he or she learns about your condition soyou can keep information accurate.

Before showing any changes in your body to a child, find out if the child wants to see. 

Reassure your children that no matter what happens, they are loved and will be taken care of. If it appropriate to your situation, talk about death with an emphasis on reassuring each child that he or she will be okay. If you believe in an afterlife, let the child know.

Expect to repeat what you tell a child, particularly as changes occur.

Suggest that the child come to you when he or she wants more information rather than ask someone else or do his or her own research.

Listen to your child's fears.

Watch for changes in your child which indicate difficulty coping.

Coordinate what you tell a child with your spouse or significant other so the child gets a consistent story. It helps if other adults close to the child are informed of what you tell your child so the child doesn't become confused.
Tell each child's teachers and counselors about your health condition so they can be alert to any signs of distress or behavioral changes. They can also provide extra support if needed. Sometimes withdrawal from peer relationships indicates depression. Counseling may be needed.


  • For information about helping children cope, click here.
  • Keep your drugs away from young children. Teach older children not to take your drugs. Dispose of drugs safely. To learn about how to take drugs appropriately, including how to store and dispose of them safely, click here.
  • Consider writing an Ethical Will. An Ethical Will is a way of passing on to your children what is important to you in life and what you've learned.

Why Do I Need To Tell My Children Anything?

Realistically, a diagnosis of a serious health condition becomes a diagnosis of the entire family.

Mainstream experts agree that not telling your children about your illness can be the worst thing to do. While you may wish to protect your children by not telling them, consider the following:

  • Even very young children will probably sense something is wrong.
  • Children have very vivid imaginations. A child's imagination can take them places that are wonderful. The same imagination can lead kids to some pretty scary thoughts when they do not know what is happening. They may envision much more dire circumstances than exist. It is common for children to blame themselves for whatever scenario they create.
  • Without information, a child can feel very isolated, with no one to talk with.
  • Your honesty with children allows other family members and friends to be open with your children as well.  
  • Not letting children know is a breach of trust.

Children can cope well with crises and change, particularly when they are given the necessary tools and understanding.

  • Being open and honest with your children can help you help them through a difficult time. 
  • You can discover their specific feelings and reactions to what is happening, and can help them work through their individual concerns. 
  • Studies show that children who are given age appropriate information and whose routines remain consistent do very well. (For age appropriate ideas, see the other sections of this article.)

 if you will need children to pitch in and help more around the house than usual, letting them know what is going on can be helpful.

  • Knowing what is happening will give children a better understanding of why they are being asked to do more.
  • Knowledge will also help children feel as if they are making a valuable contribution to working out a family crisis.

Do I Have To Tell My Children By Myself?

There is no right or wrong here -- just what you are most comfortable with and what you think will work best for your family. You can talk with your children alone, with one or more other individuals, or ask someone to have the initial conversation for you. Sometimes children will be more open in expressing concerns with the ill parent. At other times, children may feel protective of the ill parent and may be more open with others.

When thinking about who could tell with you, or instead of you, consider the following people:

  • Your doctor or nurse
  • Your spouse or partner
  • Grandparents, a favorite aunt or uncle, or other family member
  • Close friends
  • A spiritual advisor
  • A social worker
  • A family therapist or counselor

General Guidelines For Telling All Underage Children About Your Health Condition

The guiding principle for telling children about your health condition should be to tell the truth in such a way that the child is able to understand and prepare for the changes that will happen in the family.  Children can sense when they are being told the truth or not.

Keep in mind that communicating with young people about an adult's illness is not a one-time event. It is a process that will continue over time. Expect that the discussion will be ongoing as things change.

  • There is no need to tell a child everything at once.
  • Start with information the child needs now. Plan to tell more as the weeks progress.
  • Do not go beyond a child's attention span.

When telling a child about your condition, it may help to think about it just as you have about any other health condition you had in the past.

In addition:

  • Make notes about the key points you want to say
  • Choose the timing and setting for the discussion.
    • Look for a time when the child is calm and isn't tired or hungry.
    • Choose a quiet setting without other people nearby or other distractions.
    • For children who are in school, a weekend is a good time becuase it givce the child time to process the news before going back to school
  • Consider starting the conversation with a statement which prepares the listender for the gravity of the conversation. For instance, "I have some important news to tell you...."
  • Let the child know that you are sick. 
    • Tell the name of the illness (in simple terms). If you have cancer, use the word.
    • Present information truthfully, but as reassuringly as possible. For example, tell them that the doctors are working to make you better.
    • If you need to be hospitalized, reassure them that you will be back.
  • Tell children about your treatment.
    • Show and tell may be appropriate. Consider using the internet, videos, dolls and/or drawings. 
    • Use clear and simple words that they can understand. 
    • Let them know about potential side effects so they will not be worried if any occur. If the side effects do occur, remind them that they relate to the drugs you take that are helping to heal you.
  • It is critical to let children know:
    • That they are in no way responsible for your illness. 
    • That your illness is not contagious. Because you are sick does not mean that they will get sick. They will not "catch" your illness.
  • Anticipate the concerns your children will have about the impact your illness will have on them. It is natural if a child seems more concerned about him or her self at first than about you.
  • Let children know how your illness and/or treatment will affect their routine.
    • Let them know that they will alway be taken care of no matter what happens. Their daily needs and activities will still be addressed. They will still get their favorite sandwich and get to Little League etc.
  • Address any fears children may have about separation and who will take care of them. Reassure each child that he or she will be safe, secure, and loved.
  • Encourage your children, whatever their age, to talk about their feelings. Let them know it is okay to be upset, angry, or scared. 
  • Also encourage your children to ask all the questions they may have. 
    • Let them know that you will answer as honestly as you can. This helps keep an open dialogue. If children are not told the truth about an illness, they can become even more scared. They often depend on their imagination and fears to explain the changes around them.
    • When you respond to your children, the answers can vary depending upon the age of the child. Don't provide more information than the child is ready to hear. One approach to consider is to answer questions briefly and wait to see if your child asks more questions.
    • When talking about your health condition, use a hopeful tone. Try not to use a tone that is overly optimistic or pessimistic.
    • Prepare answers for the difficult questions. For instance, prepare answers to questions such as "Is this going to happen to me?" or "Are you going to die?"  When thinking about an answer to the last question, it is helpful to reassure a child that you are going to do everything you can to live. It is also okay to say  something like: "I don't know." Particularly if you add something positive such as: "The doctors and I are doing to our best to keep that from happening." 
    • It may be helpful to read a book together. Ask a children's librarian for guidance, or look for books or brochures on your own such as books for children facing loss by the Centering Corporation ( offsite link
  • If you could die in the foreseeable future, talk about death if it is appropriate for the child. It is advisable not to use code words such as "I am going to sleep forever." If a child equates death with sleep, he or she will be afraid to go to sleep.
  • Do not promise that you will not die. Such a statement takes away the child's chance to come to terms with the possibility of your death. 
  • Be on the lookout for any feelings of guilt or wrongdoing. Try to deal with them immediately.
  • Expect that your children will repeat whatever you tell him or her to other people - and not necessarily correctly.
  • Ask children for their support. Think about ways they can be helpful in an age appropriate manner.
  • Arrange for children to talk with other adults. It may be easier for children to share their emotions and ask questions of other adults.
  • Warn children about all the information that is out there which (a) may not be accurate and (b) probably does not apply to you and your situation. Suggest that children ask you about whatever information they hear or learn about on the internet or elsewhere.
  • Coordinate what to tell the children and the words to use in describing the condition with your spouse or significant other, caregivers and other people in your household who will come into contact with the children. This kind of coordination keeps the children from being confused.

Do not involve children in treatment decisions. The complexities are likely beyond their development level. They may also unnecessarily focus on the "what ifs."

If you go to treatments, consider taking the child with you to take away the mystery. For example, when Sarah told her 5 year old daughter Melissa about her need for radiation treatments, Melissa asked if that meant that there was going to be some kind of box that she would be put in without any light and thunder sounds. Sarah took Melissa with her to a radiation treatment so Melissa could see the machine for herself, the people who administered the treatment, and how non-threatening it all was. The technicians explained to Melissa how the machine worked. It took the fear away. As Sarah said in recounting the situation: "I told my children everything I could. I let them lead me to what they wanted to know about."

If you will be away from home for a while, reassure the child that he or she will not be abandoned. Instead, he or she will be well taken care of and routine will be followed as closely as possible.

As time goes on, children will require updates tailored to their own changing understanding and emotional needs.

The other sections of this article describe guidelines for different age groups. As a general matter, keep in mind:

  • The age of each child.
  • What he or she may or may not be able to understand.
  • The personality and maturity of the child.
  • The manner in which the child typically tends to deal with things.

How much to tell very young children

Try not to tell a child more information than the child is ready to hear. It may be enough to indicate that you are sick and will need to take medicine, be hospitalized, or require other treatment.  

How much to tell older children

Older children will likely need more detailed information about your illness and its implications. They may also be more likely to equate a serious illness with dying and thus should be told about any treatment possibilities and potential outcomes. In some cases, your prognosis may be good, but your child may be concerned that you are likely to die because they know of relatives that have died from your general diagnosis or have heard news reports that your diagnosis is often fatal. If this is the case, it can help your children to know some of the specifics that make your situation different and your prognosis more favorable. For example, you may be younger, in better overall health, have a different type of specific illness, and may be receiving more advanced treatment than a relative who died some years ago. (When thinking about your prognosis, keep in mind that if it isn't what you hope, that a prognosis is based on statistics and does not predict what will happen to any particular individual.) 


  • Let your children know that any drugs you take are to help you, but could be harmful to them. Warn them against taking your pills (or any of your pills for that matter). Preferably keep your drugs out of reach of underage children (and possibly locked away from older children.)
  • Dispose of unused drugs safely.
  • To learn more about drugs, how to store them safely and how to dispose of them safely, see the articles in "To Learn More."

Guidelines For Telling Children Who Are Toddlers Through Age 3

  • Use words the child can understand.
  • The use of dolls or stuffed animals can help a young child understand your illness.
  • A young child's capacity to understand far exceeds his or her capacity to verbalize. Yet, at the same time, young hcildren may not fully comprehend what is being said. You may need to repeat yourself several times.
  • A young child's interpretations are literal. Choose words with care and use short sentences. For example, describing anesthesia as being "put to sleep" could confuse a child and lead to sleep problems. Alternative language might be "The doctor will give Dad a special medicine so that his body will not hurt while the doctor does the operation. The operation is to take out the part of Dad's stomach that is not working right. The rest of his stomach is okay. His body will be a little sore after the operation."
  • If you are about to undergo a treatment that is extensive and may have side effects, indicate the reason for the treatment. If a specific body part is affected, be explicit and show where on your body. If you will have appliances, bandages, I.V's or whatever, attach replicas to your body to help the toddler visualize what is to be expected.
  • Be sure the child understands there is a continuity of the parent-child relationship and that familiar routines and rituals will continue.
  • Be alert for signs of separation anxiety. The closer the relationship to the parent, the more intense the distress on separation.
  • If you anticipate hospitalization, play hide-and-seek. With repeated experiences, the child learns that objects out of sight continue to exist.

NOTE: Before telling your children, see: General Guidelines For How Much To Tell Children About Your Diagnosis

*These guidelines for telling children of different age groups are based on the classic text, EMOTIONAL CARE OF HOSPITALIZED CHILDREN, An Environmental Approach, 2d Edition by Madeline Petrillo, R.N., M.Ed, Singay Sanger, M.D., J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1980, with revisions suggested by Ann Hazzard, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Emory University School of Medicine.

Guidelines For Telling Children Age 3 Through 7

  • This age group is capable of understanding the inside of the body. Children in this age range are highly imaginative and have developed communication skills that facilitate active participation in teaching.
  • Most children from age three on have the necessary components to develop the concept of death.
  • Plan to talk for a very short time. Children of this age can only focus for brief periods.
  • Early in the discussion ask what the child knows about your condition.
  • Focus on telling about symptoms.
    • Be clear and simple. It may help to draw a picture of what is happening.
    • Use examples. You could remind them of a time when they got sick and went to a doctor to get better.
    • A simple explanation of anatomy and how the body works can be given and drawn on an outline drawing of the body which you can do in front of the child or before hand.
    • A doll can be used to visualize external appearance post-procedure or surgery.
    • If equipment will be used in your care, toys or models representing the equipment can increase the child's comprehension. Or perhaps you can show the child the equipment on line.
  • Tell the child, in general terms, about your prognosis. Let him or her know that a prognosis is what happened to people in the past, but is not necessarily what will happen to you. 
  • Help children understand the things that will be happening soon. Children this age can't think weeks or months into the future.
    • Explain upcoming tests and treatments - including the effect they may have on you.
    • Let them know they will be taken care of and by whom.
    • Let each child know how things will change in their routine for the day and in the near future. 
  • Encourage the child's questions and compliment his inquisitiveness. Give him credit for understanding.
  • Children under five may think that the illness may strike them next, that they may have caused their parent to fall ill, or that some bad action brought on the sickness. Reassure your child repeatedly that no one is to blame for the condition or hospitalization. This is recommended in all teaching, but is especially important for three to seven year olds who are preoccupied with guilt and blame.
  • Children this age may enjoy using a doctors kit and dolls or stuffed animals to "play out" some of their questions and anxieties about the medical procedures. This can be a second step after you have provided explanations using drawings and toys or real equipment as appropriate. You can let your child pretend he or she is the doctor. By watching the play, you may gain information as to how your child is feeling about your illness and treatment. This play may also provide children with a sense of greater mastery.
  • If you have a medical treatment that is ongoing, consider taking your child with you to a treatment to give the child a better understanding of what is happening and additional opportunities to ask questions.
  • Remember that young children may have strong feelings. They may express them by focusing on something else during your talk. This is okay. It allows them to deal with information and feelings at their own pace.
  • Suggest that the child come to you when he or she wants hears information from other people about your disease or wants more information. This is particularly important for young people who have access to the internet.
    • Other people are not likely to know your particular situation. Other children may have misinformation. Their information can be scary.
    • For advanced children, research on the internet is likely to turn up worst case scenarios.
  • Offer to answer any questions and to talk any time.

NOTE: Before telling your children, see: General Guidelines For How Much To Tell Children About Your Diagnosis

Guidelines For Telling Children Age 7 Through 13

  • For children in this age range, consider the pros and cons of using a doll for demonstration. Some children ask for them, while others are embarrassed to be seen with dolls. 
    • If used, the doll can be called a dummy or teaching doll.
    • When postoperative appearance is difficult to describe, visualization on a dummy is recommended. In the alternative, if a specific body part is the subject, consider use of a body outline you draw for an explanation of anatomy and how the body works.
    • If there is to be an operation and it is expected to change your appearance, show the changes to expect. Be straightforward about telling the child that no other part of the body will be involved.
    • If your child is internet savvy, ask one of your health professionals if there is a visual on a website he or she would suggest that would be child friendly.
  • For older children in this age range:
    • Let them set the pace of the talk.
    • Find out what the child knows about your disease. 
      • If what they know or believe is incorrect or doesn't apply to your situation, set the record straight.
      • Be alert to misconceptions about illness in general, and specifically about your condition. One way to raise the question is to ask the child what he thinks may have caused the problem. This gives the child an opportunity to tell fantasies or misunderstandings.
    • Be aware that your children may ignore or avoid topics when they are afraid.
    • Children 11 - 13 are in pre-adolescence. What they see and observe can be integrated to themselves very powerfully. They have more abstract thinking -- and fear. Fear may not be verbalized. 
    • Use simple, concrete information. For example, if you need surgery, you could explain there is a lump in your body that needs to be removed or something needs to be fixed like the plumber fixes the pipes.
    • Warn the child about doing research on the internet. Let the child know that there is a lot of misinformation on the web, as well as very scary information that does not apply to you. Ask the child to come to you with any information he or she learns so you can discuss it and whether it applies to you.
  • Teach the child scientific terminology for body parts and medical procedures after learning his words for them.
    • Teaching for these children should consider their eagerness for new knowledge.
    • Write new words or terms on the body outline. If you desire, the condition may be described, but not named. Characteristically, the group of children under ten does not ask for labels.
    • Before showing any changes in your body to a child in this age group, ask if they want to see the change. Body image is important to children in this age group. Don't show more changes than the child is able to tolerate.
  • Encourage questioning, expression of feelings and active participation during the teaching session. 
    • Take advantage of the older child's greater cognitive skills: the ability to reason; to make generalizations and to understand the concept of time. 
    • Children in this age group can verbalize feelings, comprehend cause and effect, and are likely to have a scientific understanding.
  • Beware of reassuring a child about your condition before learning about his or her notion of what is wrong and how it happened.
    • First recall any experiences the child may have had with illness, hospitalization, or death among other members of the family and the child's friends.
    • Fear of death is normal and common. Don't be surprised by the question: "Are you going to die?"
    • Don't be surprised if the child believes that he or she caused it by being born or by something he or she did.
    • Do not change the subject no matter what the child says.
    • After determining what the child understands, it is important to emphasize the differences and similarities between your problem and those of others. This can be most reassuring.
  • In addition to talking about now, also talk about the future. For example, tell how your diagnosis may affect your family at holidays or upcoming events.
  • It is also helpful to express confidence in your doctor and in a staff that is well trained in the management of your problem and to mention the numbers of people successfully treated. Children can comprehend simple statistical probability.
  • Suggest that the child come to you when he or she hears about your disease from other people or wants more information.
    • Other people are not likely to know your particular situation. Their information can scare children.
    • Research on the internet is likely to turn up worst case scenarios and misinformation.
  • Tell your children you will do your best to answer their questions. Let them know you're there to talk whenever they want.

A non-profit organization called Kidscope (kids-cope), offsite link publishes educational material for children whose parents have cancer. You can download electronic versions for free. (Even people without cancer may be able to apply the ideas expressed in these materials.) A similar organization is Kids Konnected ( offsite link ) which has a good Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section on their website and sponsors support groups for children in California and some other locations in the country.

Cancer Care has trained professional social workers who can speak with a child one-on-one. Cancer Care may also know of local resources. To contact Cancer Care, call 800.813.4673 or go to offsite link

NOTE: Before telling your children, see: General Guidelines For How Much To Tell Children About Your Diagnosis

Guidelines For Telling Adolescents About Your Diagnosis

  • Full disclosure is not avoidable. The child will know.
  • Let the teen set the pace of the discussion.
  • Common sense and good humor are best approaches with this age group.
  • Recall, or discover the words he or she uses for body parts. Then teach the scientific terms for gaps in the child's knowledge. Medical words and phrases will be readily absorbed into the vocabulary of a child at this age.
  • Use a body diagram to give a scientific explanation of the anatomy and physiology involved in surgery or procedures
  • Encourage the child to ask questions.
    • Let the child know that most people will think of additional questions to ask later on and to come to you with questions whenever the child wants.
    • Assure the child that his questions and your conversations are confidential. The only time a confidence cannot be respected is when it places the child in jeopardy. In such an instance, tell the child this.
    • Teens may also want to know how your diagnosis will affect them. This is normal. For example: common questions are: "Will it disrupt my social life?" "Will I have to do more chores?" Be honest with your answers. 
    • Often teens ask many "what if" questions. They may want to know more about the future. Again, answer their questions as best you can. Warn them that there will likely be ups and downs. Let them know you'll be glad to talk again later. 
    • Let children know that they should still go to school and participate in sports or other fun activities.
  • Be prepared if your teens try to ignore or avoid topics. Teens may act this way because of fear or even due to being embarrassed. They may not want to talk about your body. This may be especially true if your diagnosis involves sex organs.
  • Do not give direct answers to questions before checking out the purpose of the question. This helps assure that you understand the real question, and respond to it.
  • Determine whether the teenager has done reading about the disease or condition or what the child otherwise knows about it. There may be misconceptions that need clearing up - especially if the teenager has been looking around the internet.
  • Suggest that the child come to you when he or she wants more information or hears information from others about your disease rather than ask someone else about the information or do his or her own research.
    • Other people are not likely to know your particular situation. Their information can needlessly scare children.
    • Research on the internet is likely to turn up worst case scenarios and misinformation.
    • If you prefer to help guide a child to do medical research on the internet, we provide "how to" information in Medical Research On The Internet 101.
  • Do not credit the adolescent with an understanding that he does not have.
    • The child's misconceptions need clarification. This age child may have vague ideas about body function that remain unclear because he orshe is embarrassed to ask or does not have the ability to make his needs known.
    • On the other hand, a child of this age is capable of abstract thinking and learning on a sophisticated level, even if he or she needs help doing so.
  • By mid-adolescence, the child wants to be in on the planning and to retain control over what happens in his or her life, although sometimes a child of this age prefers not to know when findings are too threatening. 
  • If the child is concerned about genetic factors, arrange with your doctor for genetic counseling.
  • Anticipate intense feelings which are common in this age range, or intellectualization of the problem to avoid the same unmanageable feelings.
    • An appearance of indifference may be just that - an appearance. Be as understanding as you are of your adolescent's reactions to other important life events.
  • Let your child know that you expect him or her to concentrate on school and after school activities rather than on you no matter what is happening at home. 
    • Children need your permission to focus on academic work. 
    • Let your children know there is no reason for guilt for spending time on their studies instead of focusing on you or the family.
    • If family needs are pressing, help the child strike a balance.
    • Monitor homework assignments and academic performance. 
    • Participate in school to the extent you can. For instance, attend parent teacher conferences. If you cannot go, ask a spouse or significant other, a close relative or friend.
  • Conclude the discussion with treatment goals.
  • Teens often need time to themselves to deal with their feelings. They may want to be alone or with friends. Give them this time.


  • Adolescence is generally a time of great emotinal turmoil even without a parent dealing with a health condition. Watch for difficulties adjusting which may call for professional counseling. If you have a question, ask your doctor for his or her advice.
  • Before telling your children, see: General Guidelines For How Much To Tell Children About Your Diagnosis

What Other Tips Would Help My Children?

  • As much as possible, keep children on schedule. Keeping a child's schedule as normal as possible helps instill a feeling of safety.  
  • Expect children to have confused feelings, including possibly feeling guilt even though they had nothing to do with causing your health condition.
    • If a child does not show emotion, that doesn’t mean the child isn not feeling it. 
    • Let the child know that there was nothing he or she did that caused your illness.
  • If your children are old enough, let them know what you need and expect from them.     

When To Seek Professional Help For Your Child

Seek professional help when you think it is needed. Following are some instances that have prompted other people to seek help for a child:

  • A continuous change in a child's mood. We all have a base line emotional state which fluctuates as things happen. Watch for mood changes that persist or are present more than in the past.
  • An ongoing affect on schooling such as poor performance or acting out.
  • A noticeable change in socialization.
  • Focus on illness or death.
  • New or exaggerated behavior.
  • Sleep problems such as difficulty falling asleep, getting up at night or sleeping too much.
  • Substantially increased or decreased appetite.

If You Have A Communicable Disease Such As HIV/AIDS

  • Tell your children that you have the disease by name and that you are treating it.
  • Let them know that your disease can be passed from person to person. Explain how it can be transmitted from person to person. If it is blood borne, warn them that touching your blood can be dangerous and they should not do it. If they see you bleeding, they should let you know if you haven't noticed it already. But they should not do anything about it, such as try to put a bandage on it.
  • If other illnesses occur,  tell children about the new illness. Let them know that the new illness is not contagious and cannot be passed on to them. Children will require updates tailored to their own changing understanding and emotional needs.
  • If you will be hospitalized for awhile, reassure your children that they are not being abandoned and that they will alway be taken care of no matter what happens. Their daily needs and activities will still be addressed. They will still get their favorite sandwich and get to Little League etc.
  • Children may worry that everyone dies from your disease. Let them know that many medical advances have been made and are constantly being made. There is always reason to hope. 

Additional Resources

For additional information or support when it comes time to tell your children about your illness, consider the following:

  • A local disease specific non-profit organization may have specific information or advice to share and may have programs or support functions that your children can attend. For example, Cancer Support Community (formerly Gilda's Club) in New York City has what it calls "Noogieland" for children of people with cancer. Noogieland activities include Small Talk, a support group for children under 13 and Teen Time, an opportunity for teens to volunteer, discuss the impact of cancer on their lives and socialize. Noogieland also offers Noogie Nights, special supervised play hours for children whose parents are attending member activities; Noogie Fest, an annual Halloween party for children and their families and friends; and a transition program for children with cancer who are re-entering schools.
  • Your health care provider may be able to provide educational resources or other local activities.
  • Your navigator or social worker likely knows of local resources. Social workers in particular may be helpful in assisting with telling your children.
  • Reading a book about the subject. Following are some well received books that may be of interest:
    • How to Help Children Through a Parent's Serious Illness, by Kathleen McCue, MA, CCLS, with Ron Bonn (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1994)
    • When a Parent Has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children, by Wendy S. Harpham (Harper Collins, 1997)
    • My Mommy Has Cancer, Carolyn Sterns Parkinson (Solace Pub., 1991)
    • Centering Corporation has a series of books for children facing loss. See: offsite linkor call 402.553.1200