Talking with Children About a Parent or Guardian’s Cancer Diagnosis

From the Oncology series

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When a child’s parent or guardian is diagnosed with cancer, the child’s life is profoundly changed. This Video Learning Activity (VLA) explains why talking to children about cancer is important, and examines the role that health professionals can play in this dialogue.

Topics include:

  • Why talk to children about cancer?
  • How do children respond to a parent or guardian's cancer diagnosis?
  • Strategies for health professionals to talk about cancer with children

Target audience:

This VLA will be of interest to all health professionals, but especially those working in oncology, paediatrics, child or adolescent mental health, maternal and child health, and primary care.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Identify the importance of talking to children about cancer
  2. Explain the impact that a parent or guardian's cancer diagnosis can have on a child
  3. Describe some strategies for talking to children about their parent or guardian's cancer diagnosis
  4. Recognise when a child or family member may need to be referred to another health professional for counselling or intervention


The purpose of this Video Learning Activity (VLA) is to provide health professionals with practical advice on how to talk to children when someone close to them is diagnosed with cancer.


A patient diagnosed with cancer may be the parent, guardian or primary caregiver of a child. The ability to support patients in how to talk to the children in their lives as well as talking with children is an important part of providing holistic care. Children are often inquisitive; they are curious and may seek explanation from those around them regarding their parent or guardian’s cancer diagnosis. Such questions may be overwhelming and difficult to answer. However, current research provides health professionals with guidelines on the best way to talk with children to help them adjust.3Healthcare providers may benefit from advice on how to handle these conversations and on how to best assist a child when their parent or guardian is diagnosed with cancer. Further, health professionals are often asked by parents or other relatives how to respond to questions a child may ask, what information is appropriate to discuss with children, or when a child should be referred to speak with a professional such as a counsellor or psychologist. Health professionals play a key role in the facilitation of referrals to other supports, however it is important that they feel confident about how to manage such requests from parents or relatives.

Nurses in Australia are required to obtain a minimum of 20 continuing professional development (CPD) hours each year that relates to their context of practice in order to comply with mandatory regulatory requirements.


Citing this Video Learning Activity

  1. Using Harvard referencing style:

    Hodgkinson, K 2017, 'Talking with Children About a Parent or Guardian's Cancer Diagnosis', Ausmed Education, viewed (insert date),

  2. Using American Psychological Association (APA) 6th Edition referencing style:

  3. Hodgkinson, K. (2017). Talking with Children About a Parent or Guardian's Cancer Diagnosis [Video]. Retrieved from