With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts

- Eleanor Roosevelt

Supporting children & teens

Helping children adjust and cope when a family member has cancer, whether it’s a sibling, a parent or grandparent, is challenging. It can be especially hard for kids if their routines have to change or if the person with cancer looks or acts differently or is in the hospital. Children react and cope differently to a parent having cancer depending on their age and maturity level.

Infants and very young children (0-3)

Infants and very young children cannot understand the disease of cancer. At best, they might understand that someone is sick, doesn’t feel well or needs to have medicine. For children this age, their biggest fear is being separated from their parents, and any change in routine is very disruptive. To help children this age cope, you can:

  • Comfort them with cuddles and hugs.
  • If you’ll be away from home, reassure them that you will be home as soon as you can.
  • Arrange short visits to see a parent who has to be in the hospital.
  • Maintain a normal daily routine as much as you can. Ask relatives, friends or daycare staff to help.
  • Tell them how much you miss them and love them.

Preschool children (3-5)

Preschool children understand cancer when explained in simple terms. They may look for a specific cause for your cancer, such as something they did or they thought, so it’s important to reassure them that they did not cause your cancer.

  • Explain your cancer using simple terms, and reassure them that people are helping you get better.
  • If you will be away from home, reassure them that you will be home as soon as you can.
  • Maintain a normal daily routine as much as you can. Ask relatives, friends or daycare staff to help.

School age children (6-12)

School-aged children understand a more detailed explanation of cancer. Some children this age may be concerned that cancer is contagious. They may also fear a parent will die or stay sick for a long time. They may worry about physical changes to you or separation from you. They may feel guilty about having fun when someone they love is sick.

  • Reassure the child that cancer is not contagious and they will not catch it.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you and ask questions. Answer the questions honestly – admit if you don’t know the answer, and try to find the answer.
  • Reassure children that it’s okay and healthy to have fun
  • Tell them how much you miss and love them.

Teenagers (13-18)

Teenagers understand a complex explanation of cancer and may have many detailed questions. Teenagers will likely worry more than younger children about how your cancer will affect them and the entire family. They may worry about the financial impact that cancer will have on the family or they may worry about how younger siblings will cope.

  • Provide detailed explanations of the diagnosis, treatment and side effects, and how you are feeling. Tell them as much as they want to know about cancer and the situation. Ask for their opinions and, if possible, let them help you make decisions. Arrange conversations with the healthcare team if the teen feels that this would help.
  • Reassure teens that you will work through this crisis as a family.
  • Let them help out at home because this helps them feel useful, but be careful not to overburden them with too much responsibility. Let them know how much you appreciate their help.
  • Encourage teens to stay involved at school and other activities they enjoy. They need to know that it’s okay to have fun despite your illness.

CLIMB

CLIMB is a free six week programme facilitated by the Marie Keating Foundation to support children aged 5 to 11 who have a parent/significant adult with cancer. CLIMB helps to build up a child’s strength and help them to cope with their feelings when they know about someone close to them who has cancer. To register your interest in our next CLIMB programme email info@mariekeating.ie or call 01 628 3726.