Talking with your child or teen about having brain tumor

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					Talking with your child or teen about having a brain tumor
Helping your child or teen understand what a brain tumor is can help him or her cope better with
treatment. It is important to talk to your child about the tumor and answer questions in honest, simple
terms. If you do not give your child the facts in words he or she can understand, the child’s own
thoughts can often be scarier than the truth.
Many different staff members will be involved in helping your child understand his or her disease and
treatments. A certified child life specialist is one of the team members who will work closely with your
family. This staff member can help the patient and siblings understand treatment and adjust to being in
the hospital. Child life specialists are here to work with your child and his or her brothers and sisters at
any time during your stay.
The following ideas may help you talk with your child about a brain tumor. We suggest that you use the
word “tumor” openly with the patient. That way your child will be familiar with the word and more at
ease when asking questions.

Using words that your child will understand
Verbal Toddler: Use words your child knows such as “boo-boo” or “owie.” Tell the child where the
“booboo” is (point to your child’s head). It is OK to use the word “tumor” in front of your toddler. This
will help him or her feel more at ease when people use the word.
Preschooler: Again, using the word tumor around your preschooler will help him or her feel more at
ease with the word when asking questions. Preschoolers should understand if you say, “Inside your head
is sick,” and point to where the tumor is.
Early School-Age Child: A school-age child that has not learned about cells may understand if you say,
“You have a tumor inside your brain. A tumor means something grew inside your brain that is sick and
not supposed to be there.”
School-Age Child: Many children at this age have begun learning about cells. You may want to explain
that a brain tumor is made up of “a group of sick cells that are all together inside the brain.”
Teens: At this age your teen may want to sit in on talks with the doctor to hear about the tumor and
treatment in-depth. But, it is still important to talk about the things that are said during these discussions.
As with all ages, use the correct terms for the illness and treatments.

Keep in mind
Talking about your child’s illness may bring up many questions. Talking freely with him or her about
coming to the hospital and about treatment can help him or her to cope.
At all age levels, it is important to assure your child that the illness is not contagious; he or she cannot
give it to anyone or get it from anyone else. Also, this illness is not a punishment; nothing your child did
or did not do could have made this illness happen.
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Some brain tumors are cancerous and some are not. If your child’s tumor is cancerous, use the word
“cancer” along with “tumor” so he or she will know the word when others say it. If your child has
cancer, he or she needs to know that there are many types of cancer and each person’s illness is different.
Each cancer patient takes different kinds of medicines that work best for that person’s cancer and body

The Child Life staff can work closely with your family to help your child or teen understand his
or her brain tumor and adjust to being in the hospital. At the same time, they help promote normal
development. The patient’s doctor and nurses are also available to answer questions.

Adapted	with	permission	from	St.	Jude	Children’s	Research	Hospital.		Revised	3/04	                    Page	2	of	2
UC	Davis	Cancer	Center	12/06

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