4 Tips for Helping a Child with a Cancer Diagnosis
Sep 23, 2019
If you know a child with a cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to understand how to support them and their family. Every child is different - learning and listening can help you be the most effective supporter during a difficult time.
Young children will react very differently to a cancer diagnosis than school-aged children, teens or young adults. Younger children may not be as aware of why they are sick and have less insight into the seriousness of their illness. Young children will benefit from maintaining routines - they still enjoy playing and doing typical things, even with hair loss and frequent visits to the hospital.
Teens may be more concerned with how a cancer diagnosis will affect their lives moving forward with friends, school or family, and may need additional space to process those things. Young adults find their lives disrupted with the diagnosis and treatment and have more insight into future challenges. Pay attention to the feelings of the child and don’t make assumptions on what might be best for them.
Both the child going through treatment, their parents, guardians or siblings may not want to discuss the diagnosis for many reasons. It can be exhausting to repeat the same information over and over to others. Providing the family space by not asking numerous questions in the beginning allows the family to get settled. Ask if they would be willing to talk with you about what their family is experiencing and be open to them saying no. Sometimes children may want to discuss anything but cancer. Even if your interest is coming from a place of support and kindness, giving the child or family the option to talk is the best approach.
Treat them the same.
Don’t let a new condition or diagnosis alter the relationship you have with a child or their family. Talk about the same interests, hobbies and other topics you would have discussed before. Typical conversations with friends and family can greatly decrease stress.
There are many ways to support a family or child going through treatment. Just checking in or offering to help with day-to-day tasks may be exactly the kind of support a person needs. Do not wait for them to tell you. They might not. Offer to do something for them, such as mow their lawn or pick up groceries. Even if you don’t know exactly what to do or what to say, being present is better than removing yourself from the situation and their lives.
To learn more about Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s resources to support families affected by cancer, click here.
Psychosocial Services and Program Development, Director
Tammi Young-Saleme, PhD, is the Director of Psychosocial Services and Program Development in the Division of Hematology/Oncology/BMT at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
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