As you probably already realize, your cancer diagnosis will quickly turn into a family affair. And if you have young children, your diagnosis and treatment can be an especially scary time for them. One way to help children cope is to make them a part of your at-home metastatic cancer treatment care team.
“The parent has the cancer, but it’s a crisis in the children’s world,” notes Wendy S. Harpham, MD, a long-term cancer survivor, mother of three and best-selling author of numerous books, including, When a Parent Has Cancer: A Guide to Caring for Your Children. One way to help children cope, says Dr. Harpham, is to make them a part of your at-home cancer treatment care team.
“Children often feel good about contributing to the family, especially during difficult times,” she says. The key, however, is to let kids assist in ways that are healing and healthy for you both. “Aim for a balance between asking your kids to assume more responsibilities and letting them just be children,” she says.
Here, Harpham provides some helpful suggestions, depending on your child’s age and stage of development:
Very young, preschool: “You really help me when…
- you play quietly when I sleep in the afternoon.”
- you bring your dishes to the sink.”
- you forgive me for being short-tempered when I’m in a bad mood.”
- you make me a drawing to keep under my pillow, so I'll feel close to you when I'm sleeping."
Elementary school: “You really help me when…
- you continue to do well in school.”
- you enjoy your friends, play sports and continue your after-school activities.”
- you understand when I can’t attend one of your events—or won’t be able to take you places—although I will make sure that someone else can.”
- you leave me notes or drawings to keep in my purse or on my nightstand.”
Middle and high school: “You really help me when…
- you help fix dinner and other chores.”
- you do your laundry.”
- you tell me about your day.”
Questions to ask yourself before you ask for help
Socializing with friends and taking part in sports and other extracurricular activities are important for your children’s healthy development. Each family situation is unique, as are each child's needs. The situation can also fluctuate daily. Find out how your child feels about helping before demanding help. Ask yourself these questions:
- Could someone else do the job? Reevaluate your entire support system periodically to decide who's the best person for a particular task at that time. If you have friends who could drive you to chemo, think twice before asking your teen to give up basketball practice to do it.
- Does my child have time to do this now? Try to keep your child’s schedule in mind when asking for help. Work together with your child to find compromises that meet everyone’s needs, when possible. If school nights are crammed with homework, ask if your teenager could help more on weekends.
- What’s my child giving up to help me out? Acknowledge your child’s sacrifices and always thank them for their efforts. You might say, “I know you need time to hang out with your friends. Unfortunately, this is the situation and it’s nobody’s fault. You help make a big difference for all of us and we appreciate it.” Consider rewarding them for big jobs like yard work, grocery shopping or watching over your younger children. If you can afford it, offer teens a cash tip after they complete a task so that they can treat themselves to a movie.
- Should I cut my kid some slack? Even though you’re going through a rough time, remember that it’s a stressful time for your child, too. You are teaching your child important life lessons when she faces the consequences of unwanted circumstances. If you give her some slack, it's not about letting her off easy; it’s about enabling her to replenish her batteries.