It’s a good thing that your child is getting the care she needs for cancer. But the disease and its treatments can be hard for her physically and emotionally. She’ll need extra care and attention from you during this tough time. Here’s what you can do to keep up her spirits and help her feel better.
Comfort Your Child
Know what to expect. Talk to your child’s doctor about the type of treatment she needs. Ask what will happen during it and how she may feel afterward. This will help you gently prepare her for what’s coming up.
Stay close. Kids, especially very young ones, will get the most comfort from having you near. Plan to stay with your child during her treatment. Cuddle, touch, and hug her. If you have to be away, try to record a video or set up time for a phone call.
Find a source of comfort. Keep her favorite stuffed animal, blanket, pillow, or toy near her.
Think of different ways to distract. Toys and games can keep younger kids from thinking about any pain they feel. Older kids can escape into books, watch movies, or play video games.
Try to stick to a schedule. As much as you can, have your child stick to a daily routine. If she’s very young, feed her and get her to nap at the same time each day. Urge an older kid to stay in touch with friends and keep up with schoolwork as much as she’s able. A regular rhythm to her days and knowing what comes next will help her feel more secure.
Soothe with music. Play lullabies or sing aloud to a small child. Suggest that an older kid make a playlist of her favorite songs that she can listen to during treatment or when she needs to relax.
Remind her to breathe. Deep breathing can reduce her stress and help her stay calm. Very young kids can practice it by blowing bubbles.
Get support. Encourage your child to talk about her fears and worries so they don’t grow out of control. If she won’t open up to you, ask her doctor if there’s a therapist or counselor who can help. Older kids may want to join a support group and meet other young people with cancer.
Figure out how to deal with other people. Some kids may get upset if people stare at them or ask questions about their health. Talk about this with your child ahead of time and come up with a way to respond, even if you decide to just ignore some comments.
Know the signs of depression. If your child starts to lose interest in things she usually loves, seems to have lost hope, or talks about death or suicide, call her doctor ASAP.
Ease the Physical Effects of Treatment
Urge her to take it easy. The most common side effect of cancer treatments is feeling exhausted. Make sure your child has plenty of time to rest. Scale back her schedule until her energy returns.
Make sure she gets enough fluids. Drinking lots of water can keep your child’s kidneys working the way they should. And when some medicines cause a runny nose and other flu-like symptoms, water can clear excess mucus, too. You can also offer juice and broth for her to drink.
Serve soft, cool foods that are easy to swallow. Some treatments can cause a sore throat and painful mouth sores. Older kids can also suck on hard candies. Sugar-free types can help mask the odd taste and dry mouth that comes with chemotherapy.
Ask your doctor about over-the-counter relief. Some medicines you can get at the drugstore can ease the headaches or flu-like symptoms that treatment causes. Check with your child’s doctor first, though. You want to make sure anything she takes won’t react with the cancer drugs.
Talk about hair loss. Not every child will lose their hair during treatment. But if it does happen, it can be hard for some kids to handle. Assure your child that her hair will grow back, although it may be a different color or texture. Help her choose a hat, scarf, bandana, or wig to wear until then.
Ask for help. Helping your child through cancer treatment is tough. No one expects you to do it alone. If you’re having a hard time handling things, contact your doctor’s office or the treatment center. They can help you find more support for both you and your child.