“You have cancer” are three of the worst words you can hear. And if you have school-age kids, it can be nearly impossible to fathom how you’re going to tell them the news. Nancy Borstelmann, director of patient and family support and education at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says, “There’s not an easy way to tell them, but you do have to tell them to help them deal with how their world will be affected.”

“You have cancer” are three of the worst words you can hear. And if you have school-age kids, it can be nearly impossible to fathom how you’re going to tell them the news.

Nancy Borstelmann, director of patient and family support and education at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, says, “Talking to your kids is a formidable task. There’s not an easy way to tell them, but you do have to tell them to help them deal with how their world will be affected.”

Here are her tips for telling your children about a cancer dignosis:

Tell them soon, but not too soon.

You’ll want to tell your kids about your breast cancer before it affects the flow of your life. Kids are very attuned to their environment, and if you start talking to other family members or disrupt your (and their) schedules, kids will notice. At the same time, you don’t want to tell kids right away about your diagnosis. You have to deal with your own feelings first and have a plan in place; otherwise, your fear and uncertainty will rub off on your children.

Give enough information, but not too much.

Once you tell kids about your cancer, they’ll likely be most interested in how it will impact their lives. Tell your kids what they need to know right now, such as who will be picking them up from school or making dinner each night. Don’t provide too much detail, as it might overwhelm them. Do reassure your kids that you will inform them as you receive new information about your diagnosis.

Reassure your kids that it’s not their fault.

Many kids, especially younger kids, will feel as if they somehow made the cancer happen. Borstelmann says they may think that because they got mad at you, you got sick. It’s important to tell younger children that they did nothing to give you cancer. Also reassure them that cancer is not contagious. Kids of all ages may be concerned about this, even older children.

Make sure your kids have someone to talk to.

It’s important to let your children know that they can come to you with any questions. Still, many kids, especially older ones, may withdraw and not want to talk. Make sure your children know that they can go to a coach, teacher or friend with any concerns. It’s important that your children have someone to confide in. You don’t want to ignore it if your children just shut down, as that can lead to many other problems for your kids.

Try to keep some semblance of a routine.

It’s important to acknowledge that your diagnosis will affect your family and change many things, but you also want to create some sense of normalcy for your kids. Try to stick to your kids’ daily schedules to help them feel more secure. Also let your kids provide input on their schedules, such as deciding who will drive them to soccer or take care of them while you’re in treatment.