Some advice for parents about emotions and coping

Coping with the diagnosis

Being told your child has cancer may be one of the worst things you have ever had to deal with. You may feel overwhelmed, but this feeling is quite normal. Everything seems to move very fast and it might help to keep a notebook to write down questions you want to ask, or information you’ve been given.

You may search for explanations about why this has happened, or wonder if there is something you could have done to prevent it. Although this is very common, don’t blame yourself. No-one knows why cancer strikes some families. It is also common to feel guilty that you didn’t notice signs of illness earlier. Once again, don’t blame yourself – there was no reason to suspect this diagnosis.

You may also find it beneficial to talk to other parents of children going through the same treatments. Try to keep your own anxieties hidden – if you can’t stand blood or needles, try to get someone else to be with your child during procedures. Macmillan provide information and advice on the effects on parents when a child has been diagnosed with cancer.

Brothers and sisters

  • Brothers and sisters may be desperately worried too and some will keep their worries to themselves to avoid burdening you
  • They may also worry whether they will get ill too and might complain of aches and pains
  • Brothers and sisters may have to put up with a lot of changes to their routine, and this can be quite unsettling for them

Sharing information with your child - It’s worth thinking about how much information to share with your child about the diagnosis:

  • Children tend to find out from chatting to others, even if you don’t tell them yourself
  • Children may believe their illness is more serious than it really is, if they are not told the truth
  • Some children may think they are to blame for feeling unwell if you don’t tell them what’s really wrong

How children cope - First, the good news:

  • Many children cope better than we imagine – sometimes better than their parents
  • Some children show signs of sadness but it is rare to see more serious depression
  • Children cope in different ways – some by being busy and distracting themselves, some by allowing emotions to wash all around them, some by denying there is anything wrong
  • Children cope best when their family seems to be strong and supportive.

And the more difficult news:

  • It is hard for your child to be part of two worlds at once – the well and the ill - and to move between the two
  • It can be hard for them (and you) to keep up with friends and ‘stay in the loop’ – it’s worth working at this
  • They can worry about falling behind at school – so it is important they realise the priority for now is their health
  • There may be times when they feel sad or worried
  • You will have to get used to a different pace of life if your child is not feeling well during treatment. Don’t expect to continue with everything at the same pace as before.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues above, please just ask to speak to the psychologist on the ward or any other team member.