All children need extra support when a parent is diagnosed with cancer, but this does not have to be time consuming. Small gestures like reading a book together, doing a puzzle, helping with homework or just cuddling on the couch can mean a lot.
Independent of age, it is important to ensure as much as possible that their daily life continues as normal to help ease any anxiety or fear.
If the sick parent is admitted to hospital, the child should be given the opportunity to visit often in order to maintain a connection – even if their parent is unresponsive. If, for whatever reason, a hospital visit is out of the question, it can be a good idea to let the child see the hospital from the outside, show them pictures of both the building and the room their parent is in, or let them video call their parent.
Toddlers are very dependent on their parents and react strongly to even the shortest of separations. In cases where someone else is taking care of them, make sure it is someone with whom the child has a close connection.
It is important small children have time to play as normal, to invoke a feeling of stability. Play, draw and partake in other nonverbal activities with them to maintain a close relationship without having to discuss the disease.
Children in this age group are more empathetic and able to think in an abstract manner, and can understand the long-term consequences of disease and death. They need someone to listen to them and help them understand their emotions.
Despite a common desire to appear independent, teenagers can struggle to control their feelings and may need help managing heightened emotions. However, it is also important to give them room to be themselves and socialise with friends.