Level of Understanding and Developmental Stage
Helping Them Cope
- Self-focused; beginning to see himself or herself as separate from the parent.
- Minimal understanding of time.
- While people or things may go away, they are always expected to come back. When a parent leaves or is absent, the child may cry or act out to make the parent return.
- Understand being hurt or sick, but not the concept of illness.
- Familiar surroundings and people mean security.
- Try to maintain their normal routine. If changes occur, explain it to the child in a way that they can understand the impact. For example, you might say: “I feel bad today and need to rest, so I can’t play with you right now.”
- Provide as much love and attention as you can; hugs are very reassuring.
- Reassure the child that they are healthy and that it is not their fault their parent is sick.
American Cancer Society (ACS)
Source of news, information and support.
Cancer Care for Kids
Offers counseling (on-line, telephone and face-to-face) education workshops by phone, resources.
Children's Treehouse Foundation
Provides cancer centers and hospitals with training to launch support programs for children affected by cancer in the family.
Peter's Place: A Center for Grieving Children and Families
Located in Radnor, PA
Coping with cancer
No matter what your prognosis, it is natural for children to ask questions about death. They may also feel a strong sense of grief and loss about the illness and the impact it has upon you and your family.
If you would like additional information to talk with your children about the grief and loss they experience related to the cancer journey, you may find the following books helpful:
- 35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child by the Dougy Center for Grieving Children
- Guiding Your Child Through Grief by James P. Emswiler and Mary Ann Emswiler
- Talking About Death: A Dialogue between Parent and Child by Earl Grollman
- Sad Isn't Bad: A Good Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss by Michaelene Mundy
- How Do We Tell the Children? A Step-by-Step Guide for Helping Children Two to Teen
Reading a story or sharing a book with your child may be a helpful tool for encouraging a discussion about concerns and feelings. The following books are written for children and address important issues about diagnosis, treatment and life:
For Younger Children:
- I Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
- The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia
For Pre-teens and Teenagers:
- Our Mom Has Cancer by Abigail and Adrienne Ackerman
- Because Someone I Love Has Cancer: Kids Activity Book
- by The American Cancer Society
- Talking with My Treehouse Friends About Cancer: Interactive Workbook by Peter Van Derhoot
- In Mommy's Garden: A Book to Help Explain Cancer to Young Children by Neyal Ammary
- The Paper Chain by Claire Blake, Eliza Blanchard and Kathy Parkinson
- My Mommy Has Cancer by Carolyn Stearns-Parkinson
- The Rainbow Feeling of Cancer by Carrie Martin and Chia Martin
- Less than Perfect by Louis Albert
- When a Parent has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children by Wendy S. Harpham MD
- Cancer in the Family: Helping Children Cope with a Parent's Illness by Katherine Bruss, Joy Fincannon, Sue Heiney, and Joan Hermann
- Helping your Children Cope with Cancer: A Guide for Parents and Families by Peter Van Derhoot