Helping Your Child with Cancer to Cope with Changes


Treatment brings many changes to a child’s life and outlook. You can help your child by letting her live as normal a life as possible. Talk with the health care team to learn what changes your child may experience so you can prepare for them in advance.

Changes in Appearance

Children can be sensitive about how they look and how others respond to them. Here are some ways to help your child:

Prepare for hair loss

If treatment will cause your child's hair to fall out, let your child pick out a fun cap, scarf, and/or wig ahead of time.

Be aware of weight and other physical changes

Some treatments may cause weight loss and others may cause weight gain. Get advice from a dietician so you know what to expect and can help your child prepare for and cope with physical changes.

Be creative

You and your child may shop for outfits that your child likes. Sometimes a cool t-shirt or fun hat may help to lift your child's spirits.

Help your child know how to respond

Sometimes people will stare, mistake your child's gender, or ask personal questions. Talk with your child and come up with an approach that works. Your child may choose to respond or to ignore comments.

Changes in Friendships

Your child's friendships are tested and may change during a long and serious illness. Sometimes it may seem as though your child's old friends are no longer “there for them” or that they don't care anymore. It may help if your child takes the first step and reaches out to friends. The good news is that your child may make new friends through this experience. Here are some steps you can take with your child:

Help your child stay in touch with friends

You can encourage and help your child to connect with friends through texts, e-mails, video chats, phone calls, and/or social media sites.

Get tips and advice

A social worker or child life specialist can help your child think through what they would like to share with friends. If possible and when your child is up to it, friends may be able to visit.

Changes in Feelings

Although over time many children with cancer cope well, your child may feel anxious, sad, stressed, scared, or become withdrawn from time to time. Talk with your child about what she is feeling and help her find ways to cope. You and your child can also meet with a social worker, child life specialist, or psychologist about feelings that don’t have easy solutions or seem to be getting worse over time. Try these tips to help your child cope with difficult emotions:

Find ways to distract or entertain your child

Playing video games or watching movies can help your child to relax. Integrative medicine practices such as muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and biofeedback may also help. Learn more about integrative medicine approaches in the Practices That Help Children section of Children with Cancer: A Guide for Parents.

Stay calm but do not hide your feelings

Your child can feel your emotions. If you often feel sad or anxious, talk with your child's health care team and your doctor about the best way to manage these emotions. However, if you often hide your feelings, your child may also hide their feelings from you.

For more advice on how to deal with you child's emotions, please go to this section: LOOKING AFTER YOUR YOURSELF - EXPLORING & MANAGING FEELINGS

Get help if you see signs of depression in your child

It is normal for your child to feel down or sad sometimes, but if these feelings last for too long and happen on most days, they may be a sign of depression. Talk with the doctor about emotional changes you notice in your child.

For mor advice on how to deal with you child's emotions, please go to this section: LOOKING AFTER YOUR CHILD - EXPLORING & MANAGING FEELINGS

Changes in Schedule

Your child may spend more time at the hospital and less time at school during treatment. Here are some ways to help your child cope with long stays at the hospital and time away from school.

Hospital stays

Being in the hospital can be difficult for anyone, especially children. Photos, posters, games, and music can help cheer up your child. And if sports are off-limits, learn about other activities such as music, games, or writing that may capture your child's interest.

For mor advice on how to deal with time at the hospital, please go to this section: TIME AT HOSPITAL

Missing school

Most children with cancer miss school during treatment. Some children are able to attend from time to time, whereas others need to take a leave of absence. Here are some ways to get the academic support your child needs during treatment:

  • Meet with your child's doctor to find out how treatment may affect your child's energy level and ability to do schoolwork. Ask the doctor to write a letter to your child’s teachers that describes your child’s medical situation, limitations, and how much school your child is likely to miss.
  • Keep your child's teachers updated. Tell your child's teachers and principal about your child's medical situation. Share the letter from your child's doctor. Learn what schoolwork your child will miss and ways for your child to keep up, as they are able.
  • Learn about assistance from the hospital and your child's school. Some hospitals have education coordinators, and others have nurses who can tell you about education-related resources and assistance.

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