How to talk to healthy kids about kids with cancer

When kids get cancer, it’s a horrifying and confusing time for everyone involved. Even adults sometimes don’t know how to respond, and it’s even harder for other children to know how to react. Whether the sick child is sibling, cousin, classmate or friend, we have some suggestions for helping kids to know how to relate and reach out.

  • First and foremost, teach your children to treat kids with cancer the same way they’d like to be treated. It’s important to listen to the sick child, and take his or her cues about how conversations should go. Don’t pity them or be negative, but don’t be falsely positive either. Don’t draw attention to symptoms of the illness, like weight changes or hair loss, but be willing to laugh with your friend if he or she is able to find humor in the situation.
  • Help kids learn about cancer. It’s easier for children to understand what’s going on if they have some knowledge of what to expect. Let them ask you questions, and answer their questions honestly. That way, when they’re with the sick child, they’ll be better able to manage their interactions, without the fear that comes from not understanding what’s happening.
  • Explain that illness does not define a person. Just because someone you know has cancer, it doesn’t mean he or she is a different person. Kids with cancer have the same spirit and personality they’ve always had, mixed with a premature maturity that comes from having to face the reality of life and death that comes with a serious illness. Teach your children that the child with cancer is still the same person, and allow this knowledge to free your kids up to just be themselves around their sick friend or family member.
  • Offer suggestions for ways to help. Sometimes, just being there and being a friend is enough. It’s a good idea, though, for kids to reach out to sick children with offers of help. Your child might bring home his friend’s homework assignments from school, or help her friend “decorate” her hospital room with (easily removed) posters and artwork. Even small children can make cards and color pictures to brighten a sick child’s day.

One way to make kids feel like they’re doing something useful is to let them participate in a 5k race to help stomp out cancer. Wipe Out Kids Cancer is sponsoring the Addison Oktoberfest 5k, and it’s open to all ages- even babies in strollers! Visit to learn more, sign up, or donate, and let’s work together to end cancer.