As difficult as it is for parents to cope with a diagnosis of a serious illness like cancer, breaking the news to the kids can often prove to be more challenging.
On Monday's The Early Show, clinical psychologist Robin Goodman offers the following advice to co-anchor Harry Smith on how to ease the pain of this emotional process.
You need to be honest up front, because later on, when really important issues arise, the children need to know you are a good source of information.
If you don't tell your kids, they will hear things from other people, and sense changes and tension. Children will probably imagine something worse, so you are better off letting them know the truth. This gives them a chance to find ways to deal with real issues, feelings, and problems, rather than unrealistic and imaginary ones.
Prepare yourself to break the news so you can prepare the children. However, you don't need to be perfectly composed. In fact, it is not realistic to expect you will be.
Don't feel you must be stoic and unafraid all the time. Expressing real feelings in an appropriate way shows children it's OK to be upset or sad. It's important to have a dialogue about feelings. Let your kids know feelings are OK to have. Talk about positive ways to handle them.
Use real words and explain them when you're talking to kids. Avoid euphemisms. Kids will hear the real words anyway.
Provide kids with structure. Letting them know about things ahead of time and sticking to a routine is very helpful for a child. It provides a sense of safety and comfort.
You need to communicate to your child: "Things are tough. Beating cancer is hard work, but we can do it. There are a lot of hard things out there. Sometimes we're sad and upset, but that's OK. Mommy may be in pain, but Mommy and the doctors can take care that." It is also important to let your child know that it is not his or her fault.
Seek support from other people. Let teachers know. Let the grandparents help with picking up kids and carpooling. Let the kids have extra sleepovers, but make sure you're reassuring them that things will work out. You want to have the larger community support you, as well as your kids.
Kids will pick up on your fears. It's so important to open the door and make sure they know there is not a bogeyman in the closet.