What children understand about cancer?
Children’s understanding and beliefs concerning cancer are dependent on age, previous experience with cancer or illness, and their own cultural background. Below is a general idea of what children tend to understand and believe dependent on their age.
Children aged 4–6 years
- Have a basic level of understanding about illness
- May believe that they have caused the cancer (e.g. by being naughty or thinking bad thoughts about the parent). This is called magical thinking.
- Are quite egocentric, meaning they find it difficult to empathise with other people.
- May think cancer is contagious.
Children ages 7–11 years
- Are able to understand more complex explanations of cancer, and understand basic information about cancer cells.
- May feel responsible for causing the cancer because of bad behaviour.
- Start to understand that people, including parents, can die.
- Older children tend to understand the finality of death and its impact.