What happens next? Typical reactions from children

What happens next? Typical reactions from children

Though children can and have had very different reactions when presented with the news their parent has cancer, no response is “better” or “worse” than another.

Indeed, it is natural for children to react adversely – both emotionally and behaviourally. Some children have very explicit reactions whereas others might become withdrawn.

Children who display sadness, fear or anger may become more argumentative and aggressive at home or school. Conversely, they may become isolated or more helpful and eager to please.’

Some children might even stay away from home as much as possible to avoid being close to their sick parent, while others could appear unwilling to even leave their side.

Children’s emotions are irrational, and, as such, many children could believe they are the reason their parent has cancer or that they somehow caused the disease.

With this in mind it is important to reassure children this is not the case, while also taking care not to dismiss their feelings.

No matter how children react they need support, comfort and the knowledge they are being seen and heard.

Overview of typical reactions


  • Solitude and abandonment
  • Anxiety, insecurity and worry
  • Sadness
  • Longing
  • Anger and aggression
  • Relief
  • Guilt
  • Hope
  • Despair


  • Self isolation
  • Vulnerability
  • Regressive behaviour
  • Cries more often, more easily irritated
  • Is more considerate of their parents
  • Faster development and maturation
  • Development of addiction


  • Headaches, stomach aches and palpitations
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of energy
  • Change in appetite


  • Drop in concentration
  • Falling school grades


  • Feeling of injustice and meaninglessness
  • Beliefs are challenged and changed

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