How to help your child face cancer

Children and adolescents react to the diagnosis of cancer differently, according to their age, development and personality. However, there are some feelings that are common in children the same age, so there are also some strategies that parents can do to help their child cope with cancer.

Beating cancer is possible, but the arrival of the news is not always received in the best way, besides the treatment having many side effects involved. However, there are some strategies that can help you overcome this delicate phase in a more smooth and comfortable way.

Children up to 6 years

How do you feel?

Children of this age are afraid of being separated from their parents, and are afraid and upset because they have to undergo painful medical procedures, and may have tantrums, scream, hit or bite. In addition, they may have nightmares, go back to old behaviors such as bed wetting or thumb sucking and refusing to cooperate, resist orders or interact with other people.

What to do?

  • Calming, hugging, cuddling, singing, playing a song for the child or distracting him with toys;
  • Always stay with the child during medical tests or procedures;
  • Have the child’s favorite stuffed animal, blanket or toy in the room;
  • Create a cheerful, colorful hospital room, with good lighting, with the child’s personal objects and drawings made by the child;
  • Maintain the child’s usual schedule, such as sleep and meal times;
  • Take time out of the day to play with the child, playing or doing an activity;
  • Use a telephone, computer or other means so that the child can see and hear a parent who cannot be with them;
  • Give very simple explanations of what is happening, even when you are sad or crying, for example “I am feeling a little sad and tired today and crying helps me to get better”;
  • Teach the child to express their feelings in a healthy way such as drawing, talking or hitting a pillow, instead of biting, shouting, hitting or kicking;
  • Reward the child’s good behavior when he cooperates with medical examinations or procedures, giving an ice cream, for example, if this is possible.

Children from 6 to 12 years old

How do you feel?

Children of this age may be upset about having to miss school and fail to see friends and colleagues at school, guilty of thinking they may have caused cancer and worried about thinking that the cancer catches. Children between 6 and 12 years old can also show anger and sadness that they have become ill and that their lives have changed.

What to do?

  • Explain the diagnosis and treatment plan in a simple way for the child to understand;
  • Answer all the child’s questions sincerely and simply. For example if the child asks “Am I going to be okay?” answer sincerely: “I don’t know, but doctors will do everything possible”;
  • Insist and reinforce the idea that the child did not cause cancer;
  • Teach the child that they have a right to be sad or angry, but that they should talk to their parents about it;
  • Share with the teacher and schoolmates what is happening to the child, encouraging the child to do that too;
  • Organize daily activities of writing, drawing, painting, collage or physical exercise;
  • Help the child to have contact with siblings, friends and schoolmates through visits, cards, phone calls, text messages, video games, social networks or email;
  • Develop a plan for the child to keep in touch with the school, watching the classes through the computer, having access to the material and homework, for example;
  • Encourage the child to meet other children with the same disease.

Teenagers aged 13 to 18

How do you feel?

Teenagers feel upset about having to miss school and stop being with their friends, in addition to feeling that they have no freedom or independence and that they need the support of their friends or teachers, who are not always present. Teenagers can also play with the fact that they have cancer or try to think positive and at another time, revolt against parents, doctors and treatments.

What to do?

  • Offer comfort and empathy, and use humor to deal with frustration;
  • Include the adolescent in all discussions about the diagnosis or treatment plan;
  • Encourage the teenager to ask all questions of doctors;
  • Insist and reinforce the idea that the teenager did not cause cancer;
  • Let the adolescent speak to health professionals alone;
  • Encourage the teenager to share news about his illness with friends and to keep in touch with them;
  • Encourage the teenager to write a diary so that he can express his feelings;
  • Organize visits by friends and plan activities together, if possible;
  • Develop a plan for the teenager to keep in touch with the school, watching classes through the computer, having access to the material and homework, for example;
  • Help the teenager to have contact with other adolescents with the same disease.

Parents also suffer with their children with this diagnosis and, therefore, to take good care of them, they need to take care of their own health. Fear, insecurity, guilt and anger can be alleviated with the help of a psychologist, but family support is also important for renewing strength. Therefore, it is recommended that parents set aside moments during the week to rest and to talk about this and other matters.

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