The Importance Of Communicating Openly About Your Illness To Your Children

Receiving a diagnosis is hard enough on its own, but breaking the news to your children is a very difficult part of the journey. It is natural for parents to want to protect children from painful experiences and so might face the dilemma of if they should tell their children about what is going on or not, and if they decide to do so, how much to even share with them. 


While one might wish to keep illness a secret from children so as not to worry them, at Karl Vella Foundation we have seen how not knowing what is going on, or knowing only a part of the situation but not all, causes a lot of dilemmas within children. They usually pick up that something is wrong, and so they tend to assume the worst-case scenario. Also, we have noticed that not being told about what is going on or finding out from someone outside the family, tends to influence the trusting relationship between the parent and child. Allowing children the space to ask questions could help lessen any misinterpretations about your illness, and this way they can replace any misunderstanding with the proper and correct information (Mongelli, 2018). 


Knowing more about their parent’s diagnosis, treatment plan, and expected side-effects, allows children to better prepare themselves for the situation, and in turn they tend to cope better with this experience (Forest, Plumb, Ziebland & Stein, 2006). However, at the same time, there are also some children who might not be ready to listen to all the details about the diagnosis and treatment plan. This is precisely why having open and honest communication about your illness is important. Letting your child decide how much or how little they wish to know will give them the time and space they need to process the diagnosis at their own pace. It will also give them the choice to decide how much information they can handle.


When talking to children about your illness, it is suggested to talk to them at a time and place where the child would feel comfortable. Asking them what they know about the situation so far, and how they feel about it, also helps to foster a more open communication. If the child has any doubts or worries, try to answer their questions in an age-appropriate manner and reassure them that whatever they are feeling is normal. It is also okay for the parent to not have all the answers to the child’s questions, and simply say ‘I don’t know’.


Regardless of whether you choose to tell your children everything, or as little as possible, allowing your children the opportunity to ask questions if they wish, and to choose how much they wish to know is important. This is because knowing that they could always ask questions and that they would always be given the correct information, enables them to cope with the situation in a more effective way. 

By Martina Chircop 




Mongelli, M. (2018). Effects of parental cancer on children and adolescents. https://www.healthwellfoun


Forest, G., Plumb, C., Ziebland, S., & Stein, A. (2006).

Breast cancer in the family— Children’s perceptions of their mother’s cancer

and its initial treatment: Qualitative study. British Medical Journal, 332(7548), 998-1003.


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