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Information central for parenting with breast cancer.

Communicating with Your Children

Maintaining The Dialogue

How can I encourage my kids to talk?

  • Ask open-ended questions.
    One of the best ways to encourage communication is to ask open-ended questions. Here are a few examples:
    “How do you feel about that?”
    “What do you think?”
    “Can you tell me more about that?”
  • Offer to listen without saying anything.
    Sometimes kids are afraid of how you’ll react to something they want to say. Try telling them up front that you’re willing to listen without responding. This may make them feel more comfortable.
  • Thank your child for talking.
    When your child tells you how he’s feeling, say thanks. Let him know how much you appreciate his honesty and openness.
  • Be a good listener.
    Give your child your undivided attention when he talks to you. Look him in the eye. This shows him that you care about what he’s saying. For younger kids, get on their level by sitting on the floor with them or by holding them in your lap.
  • Restate your child’s comments.
  • Occasionally repeat or reframe your child’s comments to confirm that you’re understanding him correctly. Here’s an example:
    “Let me make sure that I understand what you’re saying. You want me to keep my wig on at home because seeing my bald head makes you worry. Did I get that right?”
  • Check in.
    You don’t have to wait for your kids to start the conversation. Check in with them on occasion.
  • Use play time to talk.
    Play time presents a great opportunity for communicating with younger kids.
  • Be ready.
    You never know when your child will open up. Be ready to listen when they’re ready to talk. Your child might want to talk about your breast cancer when you put him to bed. He might want to talk when you’re driving him to soccer practice. He might want to talk when you’re busy making supper. Be available to him, even if the timing is inconvenient to you.
  • Empathize with your child.
    Acknowledge your child’s feelings, and let him know that you care about what he has to say. Here are some ways to let him know that you understand:
    “You’re right, I don’t know what it’s like. But I can see how upset you are.”
    “I can only imagine how difficult it is for you.”

What should I NOT say?

When talking to your kids about breast cancer, try to avoid saying things that will shut down communication, minimize your child’s feelings, imply that you don’t care about their ideas, or discourage him from asking questions. Here are some examples of things NOT to say to your kids:

“You won’t understand.”

“You don’t need to know.”

“You’re too young for that.”

“It’s not important.”

“That’s a silly thing to worry about.”

What if I don’t know what to say?

It’s okay to tell your child that you don’t know how to answer his question. Let him know that you’ll find an answer so he doesn’t feel that you’re dismissing his concerns. You can say,

“I don’t know how to answer that, but I’ll find out and let you know.”

It’s also okay to say, “I don’t know” when you’re just not sure what to say. You can say,

“Wow. I hadn’t thought about that before. Let me think about it and get back to you.”

What if my teenager doesn’t want to talk?

Getting teenagers to talk can be a challenge. Many teens think they know everything, and they’re even more certain that their parents know nothing. Your teenager hears what you say, even when her words and body language say, “I’m not listening.” So talk to her anyway.

Here are a few tips for talking to your teens:

  • Acknowledge that she doesn’t want to talk.
  • Tell her you have a few things you need to say.
  • Be brief.
  • Tell her you’re there to listen anytime she wants to talk.

Here’s an example:

Mom: It seems like you’re not very interested in talking. That’s okay. But there are a few things that I need you to know about my radiation treatment. I’ll be going to the hospital every afternoon starting Monday, and this will last for five weeks. I won’t be able to drive you to your tennis lessons on Thursdays. Mrs. Peterman said she’s happy to drop you off since she’s taking Ellen anyway. Is this okay with you?

Teen: It’s fine.

Mom: Is there anything you want to talk about?

Teen: No!

Mom: Okay. I just want you to know that I’m happy to talk whenever you feel like it. Thanks for listening.

How can I help my child respond to the questions that people ask?

Adults and children are going to ask your child a lot of questions about your illness. You can help your child feel more comfortable answering these questions by encouraging him to practice some answers. Two responses that work for nearly all questions are: “I don’t know,” and “You should ask my mom.”

How do I help other adults talk to my kids about my illness?

If you’re reading this paragraph, you’ve given some thought to how you want to communicate with your kids about breast cancer. You might consider sharing your thoughts with the other adults in your child’s life-grandparents, teachers, child care providers, family friends. Remember, however, that you cannot control the words and actions of other people. Your children will hear some silly, inaccurate, and downright stupid things. Here are some tips you can share with other adults:

  • Be honest.
    Let other adults know that you’re being honest about your illness with your kids, and you’d like them to be honest, too.
  • Be age-appropriate.
    Let them know that, while you’re being honest, you’re also being age-appropriate, which mean only sharing information that kids can understand in a way they can understand it.
  • Be reassuring.
    Tell other adults how important it is that they reassure your child, telling your child that he (and you) will get through this.
  • Listen.
    Ask other adults to listen carefully to your kids. You want your kids to know-and to feel-that they have been understood.
  • Use a similar tone.
    Let adults know the tone you use when you talk about cancer. Are you being serious? Neutral? Upbeat?
  • Use real words.
    Other adults should know that you have used some of the “scary” words, like cancer and tumor, with your kids. They can use these words, too.
  • Communicate with you.
    Ask other adults to communicate with you. It’s important for kids to feel that they can confide in other adults when their mom is sick. Without violating your child’s confidence, adults can still let you know if your kids are struggling and need more help.
  • Avoid projection.
    Encourage other adults to be aware of their own feelings about your illness. Ask them to avoid projecting their own fears and anxieties on your kids.

For example, your mother might be very worried about the possibility that you will die. She could try to reassure your kids by saying, “Don’t worry. Mommy isn’t going to die.” But despite her good intentions, she may plant new fears in the minds of your younger kids, as the possibility of your death may not have occurred to them.

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