Ide Mills Photo courtesy of Ide Mills

Your child has cancer. These four words can complicate the normal joys of raising a child or teenager. While tending to your child’s physical health, you also need to ensure that he or she continues to develop emotionally while living with the diagnosis.

Your job as a parent is to help your child adjust to a new and scary reality, while you offer guidance on the path to adulthood. Here are some ways you can be supportive:

Listen. Let your child know his or her worries matter. Often just acknowledging fears is enough. You may need to start the conversation by sharing your thoughts first and then asking what’s on your child’s mind.

Encourage sharing in various formats. Buy your child a journal or art supplies. It may be easier for children and teens to say what they are thinking about in letters, drawings, songs, videos or blog posts than by talking with you or others.

Maintain routines. Children and teens need boundaries and clear expectations. If your child or teen is healthy enough, set the expectation for going to school or work. By adhering to established routines, such as finishing homework before hanging out with friends and having them abide by a curfew, you are sending a message of hope. When routines change, teens and children can sense something is wrong—and that you might be hiding something.

Let them do what they can. Encourage your child to develop his or her unique abilities, whether that’s playing soccer, designing clothing or writing for the school newspaper.

Get Support

Websites that can help parents raise children with cancer.

Foster friendships. Your child may need tips on how to continue relationships with friends. Provide guidance to your child’s friends about when to visit and what to say and do. Ask your child if he or she wants to be included in this discussion and find out what is important to share. Assure friends’ parents that your children can continue to get together, but that you will advise them when it’s not the best time.

Help them be their own advocate. Urge your child or teen to take part in the treatment plan and to speak up to the nurse, doctor or social worker. Your son or daughter may want to change treatment days to attend a sporting event or discuss fears about hair loss or an upcoming surgery. By speaking up for themselves, they can develop skills that will serve them in the future, including learning to trust others and solve problems.

Children and teens with cancer often say they don’t want to be treated differently from their peers. You can help ensure that cancer does not define who they are by focusing on what makes your child special—in a way only a parent knows and understands.

Ide Mills, a lung cancer survivor, is a health educator and behavioral strategist who also worked for many years as an oncology social worker.