This week is Children’s Mental Health Week. In this blog, editor Amy-Louise writes about how children and teenagers may react emotionally to a cancer diagnosis, and how you can help support them.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may worry about the effect that your diagnosis has on those close to you. This includes family and close friends. If you have children, your diagnosis is likely to affect them too. Wanting to protect your children from difficult news and situations is natural, no matter how old they are. They may struggle with difficult feelings and emotions.

Children

Children can have lots of different emotional reactions to your cancer diagnosis. They may worry that you are going to die, that they have caused the cancer or that they might catch it.

Your children may react to your illness with behaviour that you wouldn’t usually accept. This can include feelings of anger or bad behaviour, at school or at home. Some children may struggle with eating or sleeping, or might wet the bed. Here are some tips to help support children:

  • It can be hard to stick to usual family rules and routines for your children. But it is important to try and keep to these. Maintaining these can help children to feel secure.
  • Make sure they keep up with school, activities and friendships.
  • Reassure them that many people with cancer get better.
  • Always let your children know how much you love them through words, hugs and kisses.
  • There will be times where you need to cry in front of them or show emotion. Explain that feelings like sadness are normal and that it is okay to show these. This helps your children accept these feelings as normal, rather than be frightened of them or feel like it is wrong to have them.
  • If you feel like you need more support, your cancer doctor or nurse can give you advice about counselling or psychological services to help you support your child. You can also contact your GP, teachers, or social workers.

A quote from our supporter Louise

Teenagers

Teenagers may need more time to work through their feelings if a parent or close family member has been diagnosed with cancer. Being a teenager is a time of emotional ups and downs. They may be facing exams or coursework at school or university, which may add to this stress. This might make them feel lonely and isolated. Here are some tips to support teenagers:

  • If they are finding it hard to keep up with their studies, it may be a good idea to speak with one of their teachers. The school might be able to extend their deadlines or offer support. Speak to the teenager before doing this.
  • Encourage them to ask any questions they have, and answer them gently and honestly.
  • Teenagers may look for information about cancer on the internet. You or your doctor could help them understand whether the information they find is accurate or relevant to your diagnosis. Riprap is a website for teenagers who have a parent with cancer, which may be helpful.
  • Give them time and space to themselves when they want it.
  • Some teenagers may want to help out at home. But they may find that they have more responsibilities at home at a time when they want to be more independent and spend more time with friends. This can make them feel frustrated and guilty at the same time. Allowing them to help shows that you need and trust them. But reassure them that you don’t expect them to do everything.
  • Help them see that talking about feelings is a positive and mature way of coping. Encourage them to talk to someone close, such as a friend, or other adults such as an uncle, aunt, or grandparent. Being honest about your own feelings will help them trust you. It will also make them feel that they can be honest about their own feelings.

A quote from our supporter David
Our booklet Talking to children when an adult has cancer aims to help you talk to children of any age about cancer. It provides useful tips about how to understand children’s reactions, how to help them cope, and deal with changes to family life.

If your cancer diagnosis is terminal, this is a shocking and emotional time. We have a booklet called Preparing a child for loss that is a practical guide to help you begin to have conversations with your children about death.

In some families, teenagers won’t need to do any more than they usually would. In others, they may have more responsibilities to take on. Some teenagers become carers when a family member has cancer. A carer is someone who provides unpaid support to a family member or friend who could not manage without this help. Our booklet A guide for young people looking after someone with cancer has more information for young carers aged 12 to 18.

_______________________________________________________________________________

To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

Comments? Feel free to add them below (you need to be logged in).

Keep in touch Follow Macmillan’s cancer information team on Twitter @mac_cancerinfo