Ask the expert special

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1

My husband has been diagnosed with cancer and I don't know how to tell our young children - should I put on a brave face or let them know what's going on?

Julia Ross, head of cancer care at Bupa UK , says: "One in two people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer, so it's something many families will face, unfortunately. It can be a stressful, busy time with lots of decisions to make - and deciding what and how to tell your children can be difficult.

"In fact, our research has shown millions of parents in this situation delay telling their child about a loved one's diagnosis, while others decide to keep it secret. Understandably, many parents don't want to worry their children, and are concerned about the impact of the news on their child's mental health or school life.

"Based on my professional and personal experience, I'd say being open is often the best approach. However, each child is unique and will respond differently. You'll know them best and should take your cues from them.

"Children are very intuitive, so it's likely they'll sense something's wrong. For some children, being kept in the dark may lead to additional stress and anxiety, imagining things are worse than they are or that something's wrong with them.

"If you decide to tell your children, encourage them to ask questions - misinformation from friends or from the internet may cause unnecessary worry.

"Don't feel you have to put on a brave face - it's important to show your children that it's OK to feel sad. Seeing adults hiding their emotions may make them feel other family members don't care, or that it's not OK for them to be upset.

"When someone close to them is unwell, children may struggle at school and become withdrawn. I'd advise letting your child's school know the situation so their teachers can support them and understand if they're struggling or acting differently.

"Finally, one of the most important things you can do during this time is to spend quality time together as a family. Children need to know that despite their parent's illness, they have a strong support network of people who love them and are there for any questions they have."

 

2

My 13-year-old son is always out on his bike with his friends. What's the best way to make sure he's as safe as possible on the roads?

 

Dave Nichols, community engagement manager at the road safety charity Brake, says: "Any parent will tell you that keeping their child safe around roads is a constant worry. With more and more traffic, families are often torn between encouraging children to be more active by cycling, and a fear of letting them near dangerous roads.

"Road crashes are the second biggest cause of death for youngsters aged five-19, so it's easy to understand why road safety is such a pressing issue for many families.

"As a parent you can help make sure his bike is safe, by ensuring it's a suitable size, well-maintained and has lights if he's riding in the dark. And talk to him about the benefits of wearing a helmet and bright clothing. You can also help plan safe routes for him, including cycle paths away from traffic.

"Don't forget the importance of setting a good example yourself. You can choose to cycle instead of drive. And when you do drive, go slowly where people live, always look out for cyclists and give them plenty of space when overtaking. You can also campaign for better infrastructure, such as cycle paths."

 

3

How can I restrict my 14-year-old son's internet use on his mobile phone, without it ending in a big row and me confiscating his phone?

 

Nina Bibby, chief marketing/family officer at O2, says: "Technology use on smartphones and tablets has sky-rocketed among young people in recent years - although you may be surprised to hear that as many as 99% of children in your son's age bracket (12-15-year-olds) are now online.

"I have a 14-year old son myself, so I know first-hand how challenging it can be to find the right balance when it comes to internet use. How much screen time is too much? Is it eating into precious family time?

"Questions and concerns like these have made smartphone use a point of contention for many households, including my own, but this shouldn't mean conversations about your son's mobile use will always end in an argument or you having to confiscate his phone.

"Firstly, I would suggest you talk to your son about his favourite things to do online and explore with him the apps, games and social networks he spends time on. We recommend creating a family agreement that balances online life with offline life - you can find a template online (tinyurl.com/yanxlbax), as well as organising family activities where a phone or tech isn't needed. It's really important your son understands both the benefits and downsides of online activity, so you can agree a level of use you're both happy with.

"The next step is to manage the time he spends online - most computers, phones and tablets have settings that allow you to do this, but there are also plenty of parental control tools out there too.

"Of course, issues around children and technology can be difficult to navigate, especially in an age where internet access is so readily available.

"Ultimately, our job as parents is to make decisions that are right for the wellbeing of children and families. For me, the best way to do this is by having regular conversations with my children about their online world and equipping myself with the tools to strike a healthy balance."

Catherine Devane