How do we handle all the changes?

It’s important to know that when someone becomes very ill, that person, as well as their loved ones might feel angry, sad, or afraid. A child may understand that the parent feeling sick can’t do the usual things. But it can be harder for them to understand that the other parent is also very stressed and tired and may be less in tune with them.

Some kids react to this by withdrawing or being afraid they’ll burden their parents with their own worries. Others may actively misbehave to get attention. Whether the misbehavior is a reaction to the cancer diagnosis or something else, you still need to address it. It’s easy to understand that a child may be upset about what’s going on, but basic rules of behavior should still apply. It’s important to try to keep routines as much the same as possible, and to be consistent with the children. Keeping the same rules makes children feel safe. They may feel things are even more out of control if they find they can suddenly “get away with anything.”

Children usually have a tough time finding the words for what they feel when a parent is being treated for cancer. Anger is hard for most people to talk about. But it’s a normal emotion when life seems turned upside down. In general, the more honest family members can be with one another, the better. Talking about how you feel is one of the best ways to diffuse the tension that your loved ones are feeling. If you find that you don’t have as much time for your kids as you might like, think about asking another trusted relative or friend, to spend time with your children. Try to talk about treatment matter of factly – even the side effects. Be sure your children know that you’re still the same person inside – even if you’re bald, or tired, or sleep more – and that you love them just as much as you ever have.

Keep the same rules and routines if you can. Tell the children what to expect when things change.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Revised: April 27, 2015

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.