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Talking with children and teens about having a brain tumor

Helping your child/teen understand about a brain tumor can help them cope better with treatment. Using explanations your child/teen can understand will often prevent them from creating explanations that are scarier than the truth. Child Life Specialists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will work closely with your family to help the patient and siblings understand about treatment and adjust to the hospital environment. Child Life Specialists are available to provide diagnostic teaching with your child/teen and siblings at any time during your stay.

The following are suggestions about how to talk with your child/teen about a brain tumor. It is suggested that parents use the word “tumor” openly with their child/teen to help them become more familiar with the word and comfortable asking questions.

Verbal Toddler: Use words your child can identify with such as “boo-boo” or “owie” and tell the child where the “boo-boo” is (i.e., point to your child’s head). It is okay to use the word tumor in front of your toddler, this will help them feel more familiar with the word.

Preschooler: Again, using the word tumor around your preschooler will help them become more familiar with the word and help them to ask questions. Preschoolers can understand explanations such as “inside your head is sick” and point to the area of the brain affected.

Early School-Age: School age children that have not learned about cells may understand explanations such as “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: 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.”

Adolescents: At this age your teen may want to sit in on conversations with their physician for more in-depth explanations.

It is important when talking with your child / teen to reassure them that they did nothing to cause a brain tumor. Discussing your child’s / teen’s diagnosis may bring up many questions, talking with your child / teen about coming to the hospital and their treatment will help them cope.

Certified Child Life Specialists at St. Jude work closely with your family to help your child / teen understand their diagnosis and adjust to hospitalization, while promoting normal development. For more information contact the child life department at (901) 595-3020 or click the link in the Related Topics box.

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