How to talk to children about cancer after Princess of Wales' diagnosis

The Princess of Wales pictured with her children George, Charlotte and Louis. She recently revealed her cancer diagnosis. (Getty Images)
The Princess of Wales spoke of the importance of speaking to her children about her cancer diagnosis, pictured with George, Charlotte and Louis. (Getty Images)

Kate Middleton has shared the heartbreaking news that she has been diagnosed with cancer.

In a video uploaded Instagram, the Princess of Wales explained that the diagnosis had come as a "huge shock" to her and her husband, Prince William and discussed the importance of explaining the situation to her three children in a way "that is appropriate for them".

"It has taken me time to recover from major surgery in order to start my treatment," she added after revealing her diagnosis.

"But, most importantly, it has taken us time to explain everything to George, Charlotte and Louis in a way that is appropriate for them, and to reassure them that I am going to be OK.

"As I have said to them," she continued. "I am well and getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal; in my mind, body and spirits."

Later in her message the royal added: "We hope that you will understand that, as a family, we now need some time, space and privacy while I complete my treatment."

Following the emotional video message cancer charities have praised the Princess of Wales for her decision to speak out about her cancer diagnosis and highlighting the importance of getting symptoms checked.

The family pictured during the coronavirus pandemic. (Getty Images)
The Prince and Princess of Wales have revealed they took their time to explain her cancer diagnosis to the children. (Getty Images)

Her address also shone a light on the difficulties many face surrounding sharing upsetting news with loved ones.

"We hear from people every day who are worried about how cancer will affect their loved ones, and how best to support each other through it," explains Gemma Peters, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support.

"In sharing her news the Princess of Wales has raised awareness of these worries and will be helping to encourage others who have concerns, to visit their GP and seek support.

"Many will be relating to the Prince and Princess of Wales at this time. Some of the first thoughts parents have after being diagnosed with cancer are how it may affect their children, and whether talking to them about it will make them worry but it is important to give them the chance to talk openly about their fears."

How to talk to children about cancer

Conversations surrounding cancer are never easy, but it particularly difficult as a parent to discuss the diagnosis of a family member children.

"Talking to children about a cancer diagnosis can be really challenging due to fears, misconceptions, and the emotional impact of the illness," explains Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and founder at Private Therapy Clinic.

"Parents and carers may struggle to find the right words, worry about causing distress, or not know how to answer difficult questions. The stigma and fear surrounding cancer can lead people to assume the worst, making these talks even more daunting and complex."

However, it’s important to be open with your children as this will ultimately help them understand, feel more secure, and cope with their own feelings.

Of course wanting to protect children from difficult news, worry and distress is natural. But not explaining what is happening may make them feel more vulnerable.

"When talking to kids about a cancer diagnosis, it is important to be honest, use age-appropriate language, and provide plenty of reassurance," Dr Spelman advises.

"Ask children what they already know and address any concerns they have," she continues. "Keep things simple by using clear language and encouraging questions."

Mum talking to her daughter about a cancer diagnosis. (Getty Images)
Macmillan has some advice for talking to children about cancer. (Getty Images)

Dr Spelman also points out the importance of reassuring little ones of the love, care and support available to them.

Ahead of talking to children about cancer, Macmillan advises being "as prepared as you can. Make sure you have all the information you need and that you understand it.

"You may want to think about the questions a child might ask and the words you will use to explain things."

Macmillan has put together some further points to consider ahead of having a conversation about a cancer diagnosis with children:

  • Use simple, clear language and short sentences.

  • Keep information relevant to the current situation, rather than things that may happen in the future.

  • If your children are young, let them know that cancer is not like having germs that you can catch.

  • Let them know that they can always ask you questions and talk to you about how they feel.

  • Be honest and tell them that you may not know all the answers to their questions, but you will try to find out and will tell them when you know.

  • Allow the conversation to be directed by their reactions and the questions they ask.

  • You may want to tell your child’s nursery, school or college, as teachers and staff may be able to support them.

If anyone is worried about the signs and symptoms of cancer or how to support your loved ones about cancer visit Macmillan.

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