kids with cancer

Talking To Kids With Cancer: 6 Ways To Get Tweens And Teens To Open Up

Today on Lionfighters, we have another guest post by Sean Akers, PsyD, a licensed clinical pediatric psychologist here at Children’s.

Talking to kids who have entered adolescence can be challenging enough. When they have a serious disease like cancer, it only complicates matters. They might have a hard time sorting out that tornado of emotions they feel, let alone articulating them.

It’s good to give your child some space. But while you don’t want him to feel pressured to talk about everything, it’s important to help him open up when he needs to. That’s especially true about his illness. Suppressing feelings can put him at risk for issues like anxiety or depression.

Here are 6 ways to help your older child open up to you.

1. Be Open To His Questions, And Let Him Make Decisions.

Younger kids don’t care as much about the details of cancer. They find out they’re sick, their parents tell them they’re getting treatment, and that’s that.

Older kids aren’t so easily satisfied. They want to know what cancer is, how it affects the body, and what it looks like. They also don’t just want someone telling them they’re going to get treatment—they want to be a part of the decision-making process.

Making your kid feel like he’s included in his care plan can be a great way to show him that you trust him and value what he has to say. Even if you are still going to make the final decisions, let him sit it on conversations. Listen to his opinions, and make sure he knows he’s being heard.

2. Find Common Ground When Talking To Kids.

What’s your child listening to these days? What’s she reading? Who is her celeb crush?

Your child is still a kid. She still listens to Spotify, watches movies, and goes on Netflix marathons. Find out what she’s interested in, and try to find something that you can enjoy, too. Once you’ve found common ground, you will almost always have a conversation starter at your fingertips.

This common interest serves another purpose: It reassures her that people still see who she truly is, underneath the cancer. It reaffirms that you’re not just her caretaker, but you’re still on her side.

3. Don’t Be Afraid Of Video Games.

Teenagers love playing video games, especially boys. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that 84% of teenage boys play video games.

Video games are known to help boys open up—the research from Pew also found that boys frequently talk to their friends when they’re playing video games. If you play games with your son, he might start to open up.

If your kid is spending time in the hospital, but you can’t be there in person, consider playing games from home. According to Pew, 84% of boys who play games online say they feel more connected to the friends they play with.

So, sit down and grab a controller.

4. Make It Casual.

Sometimes, older kids don’t open up because they’re not sure how their parents will react. They worry that their parents will not understand, dismiss what they have to say, or get angry.

The trick is a middle-ground approach, where you make sure you’re both in a safe and comfortable space to talk.

For example, try talking to your child while you’re driving, and you don’t have to make eye contact or face each other. Car conversations also take pressure off of your child. If she knows that you’re taking her somewhere else, and you aren’t just there to talk, she might become more relaxed.

5. Keep Your Ears Open, Mouth Closed.

Parents tend to take on the role of “fixer”—and they take that role very seriously. And no matter how good your their intentions are, kids at this age might not appreciate feeling like their parents are involved in every part of their lives. They’re moving toward independence.

Instead of interrupting or zoning out to plan what you’re going to say next, really listen to your child and respond to what he has just said. Developing these listening skills takes practice, but being a great listener could be key in getting your child to open up.

talking to kids, kids with cancer

6. Encourage Outside Activities.

When your child has cancer, she might feel like her whole world revolves around the disease. Treatments, appointments, missing school—it’s a lot to handle.

If she’s frustrated, remind her that cancer doesn’t have to take over her life. Encourage her to take up hobbies like music or art. A hobby can give her something new to talk about and provide new opportunities for conversation.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Also read: How To Help Kids With Cancer Feel Secure About Themselves

Christy Hogan
My background is in child development, and I use this knowledge to connect and build trust with patients and families. I’ve been a child life specialist for more than 20 years.

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