Talking to our youngest club members
I have been asked a few times lately, why I want Poppy to know about cancer at such a young age, does this not do more harm than good? Are the cards really appropriate for children as young as 2? As parents with cancer, and I think I speak for the whole community here, all we want to do is make sure our children will be ok. How my diagnosis impacts upon my children is always at the forefront of my mind. Do I use the little c club cards with Poppy? Yes, does she have any understanding of what cancer actually means and the possible implications? No, I dont feel she is ready yet to grasp that level of information both on a logical and emotional basis. She also doesn't need to have that deeper understanding at present because what she sees is a normal working mum, yes I get tired, I experience pains, and at times she has seen me upset, I am human after all, but my diagnosis has remained stable since she was 4 months old, she has never known me to be any different and in general our current family life is the perfect picture of organised chaos, well, slightly more chaos than organised.
Since co founding The Little C Club and creating the flash cards when Poppy was just 2 years old we have used them to learn the alphabet, there are not many 4 year olds that would tell you 'C is for chemotherapy', and in all fairness she may not either, its not the only thing we talk about! And thanks to an infectious tune she watches on YouTube she would probably say candy! But just by acknowledging these words as a normal part of her vocabulary they are no longer scary or confusing words that she overheard in a grown ups conversation, they are words that she doesn't have to fear and will feel comfortable when she is older to say, Mummy I heard you talking about chemotherapy, what does that mean?
As adults many people find it very difficult to talk about cancer, much like "we don't talk about Bruno" (If you a parent, I am certain this Encanto reference will not be lost on you, if it is, then check it out its a must watch!) cancer is an off limits topic. I really can't say enough how important it is that we break down this communication barrier, yes cancer is scary, but that doesn't mean we should be scared to talk about it. I want my children to grow up feeling confident to say the word cancer, and to be self aware, to know they need to check their bodies and advocate for themselves should they ever need to.
Ensuring that the conversation is age appropriate and well timed, is absolutely key, in our quest to empower our children we don't want to overwhelm them, the cards have been meticulously thought out to cater for the different information needs of the children in our suggested age range of 2-10, Poppy at 2 saw colour, fun pictures, and the letters of the alphabet, she joined in activities and began to familiarise with the cards, now at 4 her knowledge requirements have developed and changed, we still use them for the alphabet and the fun activities but we also use the cards to talk about feelings and emotions, and the practical things like, Medicine, she knows mummy takes medicine to keep her well, and importantly because we have used the cards to talk about medicine, she understands that it is always kept out of reach because it is not safe for her to touch.
When Poppy had her pre school booster vaccinations, we used the injection card to prepare, she knew what to expect, and why it was important that she had the injection, of course she still hated it and cried a little afterwards, there is never an expectation that the cards are a magic fix, but having that prior knowledge of what was to come, and the honest communication beforehand meant that I could support her through an unpleasant experience without losing her trust.
We have never claimed at The Little c Club to have all the answers, each family has unique individual needs, we can claim to be in the same boat but we know each storm is very different. By design the flash cards have been created to form a foundation, the levels of information you share with your child will of course be different, for us with Poppy it is all about having a tool that she can familiarise with at a young age, so that when the time comes to have more in depth discussions she has the best possible chance of being comfortable in the conversation, able to ask questions and express her thoughts and feelings.
If you are a professional reading this and would like to talk further about supporting families with young children, or if your family has been touched by cancer and you are looking for support and advice on how to talk to your own children, please do get in touch, via the contact form on the website, I am happy to share experiences, talk in more detail about the cards or signpost to relevant charities and services that can offer support with these difficult but important conversations.