Cancer Council Australia

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Talking to kids about cancer

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Explaining a cancer diagnosis to children or teenagers can feel difficult and overwhelming, but talking sensitively and honestly about cancer can reassure them during a time of uncertainty and change. Giving children the chance to ask about cancer and express their feelings will help them understand.

What and how much you tell children will depend on how old they are and how much they can understand.

Talking to Kids About Cancer offers ideas of how to talk with your children at each stage, from diagnosis to life after cancer.

Children at different ages will respond differently and seek different types of information. We offer age appropriate suggestions and possible reactions to expect. The booklet also includes stories and quotes from families who have faced similar situations.

Although the book focuses on when a parent has cancer, much of the discussion will be relevant for anyone who needs to explain a diagnosis of cancer to children.


Cancer conversations (PDF 0.08mb)

  • Reasons for including children in discussions about cancer
  • How children might react at different ages
  • Ways you can support them

Talking about the diagnosis (PDF 0.17mb)

  • Processing a cancer diagnosis yourself
  • Sharing the news with children
  • When a child has cancer
  • Words you can use
  • Typical questions and possible answers
  • Involving others

Talking about treatment (PDF 0.14mb)

  • Ways to understand and discuss cancer treatment
  • How cancer may affect the person with cancer and the entire family
  • Managing emotions
  • Tips for supporting the family and maintaining routines

After treatment (PDF 0.07mb)

  • How adults and children may react when cancer treatment is over
  • Continuing open communication with children
  • Responding to children's expectations
  • Re-establishing family routines

When cancer won't go away (PDF 0.11mb)

  • How adults and children may respond if cancer advances
  • Ways to talk about ongoing cancer and the possibility of death
  • Words you can use
  • Making the most of the time left
  • Resources to help bereaved children

Further support and information (PDF 0.14mb)

  • How to find professional help
  • Contact details for support organisations
  • Useful websites
  • Recommended reading for children and adults
  • Glossary of cancer words for younger and older children
  • References 

Make a book
This example, by Tayla and her grandma:

Where is Mummy?

This page was last updated on: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

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