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Kate Middleton took time to explain her cancer diagnosis to her kids before announcing it publicly. Here's how to have conversations about cancer with young ones.

Prince William, Kate Middleton, and their kids at Trooping the Colour in 2023
Kate Middleton announced she is being treated for cancer in a Friday video. Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
  • Kate Middleton announced she has cancer, saying it took time to explain the diagnosis to her kids.

  • Child psychologists and medical experts say parents should approach such conversations with honesty.

  • Being upfront about the road ahead will help alleviate kids' stress about a diagnosis.

Kate Middleton, the Princess of Wales, announced on Friday that she has cancer, ending weeks of speculation about her whereabouts.

In a direct-to-camera video released by Kensington Palace, Kate, 42, said her medical team discovered cancerous cells in her body following a January abdominal surgery. The princess said she has been undergoing chemotherapy but did not specify what type of cancer she has.

Kate said it has been "an incredibly tough couple of months for our entire family," adding that it took time to explain her condition to her kids. She and Prince William are parents to Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5.

The couple wanted to wait until their children were out of school for the Easter holiday, which began Friday, before announcing Kate's cancer, CNN reported.

Conversations with kids about cancer are difficult, child psychologists and medical professionals told Business Insider. However, parents can help alleviate some of their children's stress by approaching the discussion with intentionality and care.

"Kids pick up on the fact that something in their home situation has shifted," Elizabeth Farrell, the lead clinical social worker at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, said. "Often they're harboring a lot more worry when they don't have answers."

Use clear language

When telling kids about a parent's cancer diagnosis, medical experts said it's important for adults to be as honest as possible in an age-appropriate way.

Farrell said she encourages parents to use the word "cancer" when discussing their diagnosis instead of skirting around the disease. Children are more perceptive than adults might assume and are likely to pick up on the word down the line.

"Hearing it directly from their parents tells the kid they can trust their parent," Farrell said.

Dr. Ari Yares, a pediatric psychologist with firsthand experience having these conversations, advises parents to avoid using euphemisms because kids can often misinterpret them.

Adults should be clear about where the cancer is located and what a treatment plan might look like moving forward, said Yares, whose wife is a cancer survivor.

Medical experts said it was OK for parents to wait until they have a treatment plan in place before telling their kids, but the sooner, the better, as kids are likely to realize something is wrong.

Parents can help prepare their kids for what is coming by explaining that chemotherapy could lead to hair loss and surgery will require time in the hospital, Farrell said.

Yares also said parents should take time to practice how they plan to tell their kids about the cancer ahead of time.

Kate Middleton is receiving treatment for cancer.
Kate Middleton is receiving treatment for cancer.BBC Studios

Different conversations for different kids

Medical experts told BI that it might make sense for parents to have separate conversations with their kids, depending on their ages and comprehension levels.

Dr. Jonathan Villena, a cardiothoracic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Cancer Society, said the organization has specific guidelines for how to talk to kids of different ages.

Kids three and younger are too little to understand what a cancer diagnosis means. But what they do understand, Villena said, is routine. Young kids will clock when their lives are disrupted by a parent being gone or unable to care for them. Other adults can help assuage the kids' stress by stepping in and picking up the slack, he said.

Children who are a bit older can understand what being sick means, even if they don't comprehend the realities of cancer. Villena said four-to-six-year-olds will likely need a lot of reassurance from their parents as well as understanding if they react emotionally.

Seven-to-twelve-year-olds, meanwhile, are more capable of understanding what cancer is and how it's treated. Villena said it's important for parents to assure their kids that it's still OK for them to have fun and go about their life as normally as possible, even though their parent is sick.

Lastly, teenagers can comprehend the difficult aspects of a cancer diagnosis and will probably start to internalize their feelings, Villena said. They may ask for more details about the diagnosis and treatment, which is OK, he added.

Ultimately, medical experts said parents should use their best judgment regarding how much information to share with their kids.

"You know your kids and the kind of information they're used to handling," Yares said.

Be prepared for questions

Questions are common as kids try to process a parent's cancer diagnosis, experts said.

Young kids frequently have two major concerns: Can I catch this? And did I cause this?

Some young kids may engage in magical thinking, Farrell said, causing them to worry that they are to blame for a parent's illness. It's important for adults to explain the diagnosis in a way that makes it clear a child played no role in its occurrence.

Similarly, adults need to be clear from the start that cancer isn't something their kids can "catch" and that it's OK for them to be close to their parents as they go through treatment, experts said.

The other question kids of all ages are likely to ask is, "Is my parent going to die?" If an adult has a positive outlook, they can quickly shut down any fears of death and reassure their kids that they will be OK after treatment, Farrell said.

But if the prognosis is less certain, medical experts recommend being honest with kids while still being sure not to scare them.

"Parents can say, 'That's not what's happening right now, but if we have reason to believe that, we'll let you know first,'" Farrell said of handling questions about death.

"That lets kids let go of that fear that their whole will be upended with no warning," she added."

A doctor in a white coat talks to his patient.
You can reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer by making a few lifestyle changes.Chinnapong/ Getty

Lean on your support system

More than anything, medical experts said people need to call on their community for support after a cancer diagnosis, especially when kids are involved.

Medical experts also pointed to online resources for parents struggling with how to tell their kids about cancer, as well as support groups meant for kids who are dealing with cancer in the family.

"Cancer is a disease that sucks," Yares said. "But it's not something that any individual or family should feel ashamed to share with others."

Read the original article on Business Insider