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How can parents explain cancer to their children?

March 23, 2024

How can parents explain cancer to their children? Protecting our children is a strong parental instinct.  For parents diagnosed with cancer or other illnesses ‘What am I going to say to my children?’ is a very difficult and natural question.

We are sure that most of you will have seen the recent publicity surrounding The Princess of Wales’ recent cancer diagnosis. As parents, we can only begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for the family to explain cancer to Prince George (10), Princess Charlotte (8) and Prince Louis (5). We spoke to children’s Author, and cancer survivor, Simone Baldwin, about how to explain cancer to children.

Even young children do notice things. They may overhear conversations, notice other people’s reactions, or pick up on parents’ emotions. Consider if your diagnosis will impact the family routines, if it will, is it better in the long term for children to understand why?

Trust your instincts

In the same way that every diagnosis is personal, every family is unique too. What feels right for one family, might not feel right for another. Children are often more resilient than adults give them credit for, but no one knows children better than their parents or carers. Parents will be able to judge how much of an explanation and what type of language their children can digest. Depending on the age and maturity of your child, you may decide to just give a gentle explanation to begin with, avoiding medical sounding words like cancer or tumour.


It might be easier to have difficult discussions while doing another activity for example being out and about on a walk, or while playing a game. That way if the conversation becomes difficult for anyone, the activity can become the focus for a while instead. Prepare for the unexpected. Children’s minds are amazing and can think in ways that adults do not, so don’t be surprised if they ask things you were not expecting.  It is Ok if you do not know the answer. With that in mind, you may decide to tell children about your diagnosis straight away or wait until you have had a specialist appointment so that you have a bit more information.  You must do what feels right for you and your family at the time.


There are many charities providing support workers for one to one or group chats, either face to face or online. Many charities have networks to put people in touch with others going through similar experiences. This is a great way to gain support from people who really understand.


Simone Baldwin - Mummy has a lump - Daddy has a lump

Your medical team should provide information to help you understand your specific diagnosis as well as signpost you to charities that can provide further support. Some charities also have resources specifically for parents, so be sure to ask.

For help with explaining your diagnosis to children you could try using books like Mummy has a lump, or Daddy has a lump a picture book to help explain.


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