Behavior Issues

Parents of children who have been sick sometimes feel reluctant to discipline that child too harshly. However, clear and consistent consequences for unwanted behaviors always make them decrease. Clear and consistent positive consequences for desired behaviors make them increase. When children behave better, their relationships improve, they feel better about themselves and they are happier, but the solution rests on a bit of effort from parents and other caregivers until the changes take hold.

Rules of thumb:

  • Children strive on structure and routine. Knowing what will happen and when is even more important to children when life becomes unpredictable or confusing because they have had a serious illness or are dealing with major changes.

  • Any form of attention such as yelling or scolding makes any behavior increase. It is important to ignore undesirable behavior whenever possible.

  • It is important for parents to reward – and pay attention to – good behavior whenever they see it.

  • Parents should work only on changing one behavior at a time. It should be something you observe rather than something you interpret.

  • Consequences need to be appropriate to the child’s age and interests and they should not be used for other behaviors at the same time.

  • Consequences should be immediate, consistent and contingent.

Do we need help?

Families of children who have had treatment for cancer have already been through a lot of stress. We suggest that parents seek advice or consultation from a professional to help with anything that troubles them, even for a short time. Behavior problems are no exception. In particular, it is important to seek help for behavior problems if:
  • The parent-child relationship is suffering.

  • The child’s behavior is having a negative impact on his or her self-esteem or relationships with peers.

  • The child’s behavior is affecting adjustment to school and classmates.

Consultation with a psychologist may help parents set realistic expectations, develop an effective program of consequences or explore whether their children have emotional concerns. If you feel you need assistance, please ask your physician for a referral.