Children may not know how to put their concerns into words or they may feel uncomfortable talking about them. However, just because they aren’t saying anything doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about things – and possibly developing their own misconceptions. We’ve broken down their typical worries into four “Cs:”
Did I CAUSE it? Children may engage in magical thinking, and might think their mom got sick because of something they did. For example, did she get throat cancer from having to yell at them too much? Reassure them that her illness is not their fault, even if they don’t mention it. You may not know what actually did cause her cancer – it’s okay to tell them that, explore the idea and wonder together.
Can I CATCH it? At school and day care, children are taught to sneeze into their elbows and wash their hands to keep from spreading germs and catching colds. When their mom gets cancer, it’s not a stretch to imagine she’s contagious, too. Reassure the children that they can’t catch it from her, even if they don’t ask, and let them know doctors are working hard to help her. If you don’t know the answer, give opportunity to wonder together. It’s okay to say, “It’s a mystery.”, and let them know doctors are working hard to help her.
Can I CURE it? Children want to help, but they need to know they can’t cure mom themselves. Tell them that mom needs their love and support, thinking that “being extra good” or some other form of magical thinking won’t make her better. Be open with the child and discuss things that they can do to help mom feel better. For example, give her hugs, set the dinner table, make her bed, etc.
Who will take CARE of me? When children see their mom is sick, it’s natural to wonder who will care for them. Always consistently reassure them that there will always be a loving adult in their lives who will be there for them.
When you know what “Cs” to watch for, you’ll be better equipped to communicate the children’s concerns to their parents.