How to talk to your child during your radiotherapy treatment

​In our department, we are committed to helping parents and their children on how to tackle the emotional challenges which can occur when a parent is seriously ill. This led us to the development of material which can assist the parents. Any child is welcome with their parent (the patient) in our radiation department. We encourage parents to bring their children along to one of their treatments in the radiotherapy department. 

​​​​​Movie ​about radiotherapy for children and their parents

Watch this movie together to experience, what takes place when children join their parents for radiotherapy treatment.

› Read the following text in Danish​​​​

A difficult conversation with your child

​This material has been developed to help you discuss your illness and radiotherapy treatments with your child. It can explain why it is so important to have these difficult conversations to improve your child’s wellbeing while you undergo treatment. It can be beneficial for your child to bring her or him along to one of your radiotherapy appointments. This can help provide your child with assurance and a feeling of safety to share in the experience of seeing a radiotherapy treatment and meet your treatment team.

Prior to this, it’s a good idea to explain your treatment to your child in an age-appropriate manner. For example, you can describe how you lie on the treatment table with your hands above your head, or that you need to wear a certain mask during radiation. It can also be very helpful if you are accompanied by another adult on the day you chose to bring in your child, as this can help relax and comfort him or her while you are having your treatment. It helps calm and reassure your child to be with another adult they know and trust while you are in the treatment room.

We have produced a short film which you can watch together with your child (look at the top of this page). The film shows a radiotherapy treatment and can be quite a helpful tool for the children who need more information. 

​How to talk to your child during your radiotherapy treatment

Adapt your conversation to align with the age of your child.

​Your child, at any age, may worry about your illness and whether it is a terminal condition. It’s important to talk to your child and be as age appropriate as possible. This also includes being open and honest about the reality of your disease if you feel this is important and appropriate for your child and family.

​This age group does not understand the concept of illness and disease, especially if the illness is not visible. Their reality and everyday life are often on a continuum between reality and fantasy.

​This age group has a need for age-appropriate information. However, they may easily misinterpret the information provided. It is important to ask them specifically what they have understood. We suggest you ask them to repeat it back to you to ensure they understand the information.

​Teenagers want to be respected and treated as adults. Unless you provide them with appropriate information, they will probably seek it out themselves on the internet. Privacy is important to this age group. Mood swings are common during the teenage years and being unhappy may occur without any obvious cause. They are aware of various illnesses and diagnoses such as cancer and are likely to seek information on the internet.

​Your child’s social circle and friends

It can be very beneficial to inform your child’s friends and inner social circle about your diagnosis and treatment. Your child may have difficulty in expressing and explaining the situation to their friends, similar to how you may find it challenging to talk to your child. A child at any age may not have developed the vocabulary required to express their thoughts and feelings to others.

Therefore, it is suggested that you help your child initiate these difficult conversations with friends and others (for instance teachers and their friends’ parents).

The following quote is an example of how you can initiate this. There may be a good opportunity to elicit help from teachers and other adults in your child’s life. They may be willing to have conversations with your child’s friends but remember to begin by asking your child how to proceed with this.

“I arranged with my child’s teacher to visit her class. I sat with the children on the floor and explained that I had a disease called cancer. I asked them if they had ever heard of that disease. Some of the children raised their hands and shared that they had had a grandmother or uncle with cancer. This helped my own child, knowing that her friends knew about cancer, and it helped her feel included and not so alone in her experience”

- Lone, a former patient and mother to a 10-year-old child​​

Allow for breaks from illness and treatment

Having enjoyable experiences with your child and family help him/her through the difficult times. Try to appreciate one another’s company and create enduring memories with your child.

Responsible editor