Explaining a Parent's Illness to a Child

Kim, who is fighting cancer, has told her 4-year-old son Tyler that "Mommy has a boo boo." She asks Dr. Phil how she can explain a little more to her son without scaring or worrying him.
Dr. Phil responds:
  • "You can't give away what you don't have," says Dr. Phil. Kim needs peace of mind for herself before she can pass on a positive attitude and a sense of optimism to her son.

  • Do not ever burden a child with adult issues. Do not give them something they do not have the coping skills to handle. Deal with a child on his level in terms he can understand. There's nothing wrong with "Mommy has a boo boo."

  • "I don't want to hide from him when I'm not 100 percent," says Kim. And Dr. Phil agrees that it can be good for a child to see "the whole gamut of emotions." A child will learn, for example, that "when Mom cries, the world doesn't come to an end. She'll stop crying and things will be OK." It is healthy for a child to see that Mom can cry, and later that day she may be laughing.

  • Don't ever burden a child with something over which he/she has no control. The number one stressor for people is caused by external factors over which we have no influence.

  • Give information on a need-to-know basis. There is no reason for a child to know that his parent could die. But it's OK for him to understand that Mommy isn't feeling well or is having a rough day.

  • Don't deny yourself the right to have good and bad days.

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