Talking to children about cancer: Is my child responding normally?

Seventh and final article in a series on how to talk to your children about cancer.

We can’t truly say that there is one ‘normal’ way for a child to respond to the stress of having a sick parent — because each child has an individual personality, each may respond differently. As a parent, keep these things in mind as you try to help your child through this stressful time.

Know that change can be normal

During times of stress, it is very common for children of all ages to display changes in behavior, mood, school performance, relating to others, eating, sleeping and even toileting.

Some kids may regress in their behaviors. For example, a child that hasn’t wet the bed in years may suddenly start having accidents, or your child may get very clingy and start using “baby talk.”

Though changes like this can be concerning for parents, these are actually typical responses.

Seek help if you’re concerned

The rule of thumb that I use with parents is this: If your child is displaying behaviors or saying things out of the ordinary for him and you are concerned, then don’t hesitate to seek professional support for him immediately.

Sometimes, children just need more tools than we might realize in order for them to cope appropriately.

There are wonderful registered play therapists and counselors who work with children experiencing stressful situations, and can help them learn coping strategies. Not only will this help them during your cancer journey, but also as they encounter other stressful life events down the road.

Recognize when your child is stressed

Expect that your child will show signs of stress and recognize when she might need extra help. Stay connected to your children and really listen to them.

Sometimes, they say more with their expressions than they do with their words.

Remember that mistakes happen

Most importantly, realize that there isn’t a playbook for this. You can’t possibly be prepared for every question or situation that may arise. But remember this — mistakes made out of love are easily fixed.

If you say or do the wrong thing, acknowledge and correct it. Your kids can understand that mistakes happen, and they will forgive you.

Remember to share good times with your kids, even in the midst of what may be the hardest time in your life. Laugh often and be willing to let others help you.

This post was contributed by Cinda McDonald, a Certified Child Life specialist with the Supportive and Palliative care team at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

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Talking to children about cancer: Is my child responding normally?