The Talk: How “Older” Moms Speak to Young Children About Their Health

“Older” moms love to compare resumes.  How their years—past or present—in law, marketing, what have you, give them an edge when it comes to raising children.  Yes, at work dealing with some adults can be compared to dealing with children.

Though, it’s hard to say if any day job prepares you for the most difficult presentation you’ll ever make—talking to your child about your own health issues.

Across the country, so many older moms—those of us who had our first child at 40+—struggle with this overwhelming, “how-to explain-it” task.

We’re Getting Older

Let’s face it, by the time our child was born, we had lived about half our life span. And, things happen as we age. Sore hips, knee replacements and the fact that 1 in 43 women in their 50s is diagnosed with breast cancer each year.  Not to mention, an assortment of other ailments.

As a two-time early-stage breast cancer (let’s not forget thyroid cancer) survivor, I can tell you my 10-year old daughter thinks bumpy sutured breasts are the norm. Because my surgeries occurred before she was born and before she turned 5, the “Mommy has a boo-boo, but I’m fine” explanation seemed to fit and has stuck, so far.

The Conversation

I know, though, the day is approaching where a deeper conversation, not just a quick, glossy explanation, between mother and daughter will occur.   I’m trying to mark my calendar with thoughtfulness and understanding for who she is as the child I know and love.

Most experts seem to agree, what you say depends on the age of your child.  This subject requires time and lots of research, but here are a few things I’ve learned:

Talking to Your Child: Preschool to 5

  • At this age, a child’s understanding of illness is vague at best.
  • Simple explanations of the body, illness and treatment are best.
  • For example, “I have to take medicine to stay strong.”

Talking to Your Child: 6 to 11

  • At this age, children are developing logical reasoning skills. They can understand external causes and are more interested in the body. And they require more specific information.
  • For example, “My heart needs to be fixed, and I’ll be going to the hospital soon to make it better.”
  • And, they understand the links between illness and needing treatment. They can understand something like, “Blood tests help us to see if the medicine is working.”

Every child is different, so before approaching the subject, you should consider consulting with a pediatrician or child psychologist.

And, remember, however you choose to tell your story, tell it from your heart.


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