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parenting through cancer


So much changes when a young person is diagnosed with cancer. As a parent, the desire to protect at all costs often kicks in and there is very little you wouldn’t do to try to make things easier.

how family life can change

Being a parent isn’t an easy job at the best of times, let alone when facing cancer. As a first step, it may help to remember that other parents are facing these challenges too. 


Younger children diagnosed with cancer sometimes talk about feeling left out of discussions or decisions, while older children might have issues with losing independence or finding their parents overly protective. Some siblings feel different expectations have been set for them, like behaving perfectly or helping with household jobs more than usual.

communicating with your child

Cancer makes everyone feel disempowered, but good communication can help. So one of the most important roles you can play as a parent is to be someone your child can really talk to and who makes them feel heard.


Encourage your child to talk to you and, where appropriate, involve them in discussions with their medical team, knowing they have their own skills and abilities to draw on. Be as honest as you can about your own fears and what you’re doing to manage them. Kids are perceptive and they’ll notice when you’re upset.


Finally, help them build a support network of family, friends and professionals they can talk to when they can’t come to you.

how to be a good listener

Being a good listener is quite a skill and it can really help you understand what your child is thinking or feeling. Here are some things you can do to improve:

  • Don’t try to fix everything – sometimes just listening is extremely helpful
  • Ask questions to make sure you understand what your child means
  • Look for their body language and other non-verbal signs
  • Use humour – show them it’s okay to laugh
  • Don’t be afraid of silence
  • Let them be scared or angry – and let them know it’s normal

behaviours and boundaries

When your child is going through treatment, it can be easy to let them push boundaries or “get away with” poor behaviour you normally wouldn’t accept, or to go over-the-top with gifts and treats.


Of course, a day of bad behaviour or an extra treat is not a big deal. But remember that because cancer treatment takes time and there can be a lot of changes, boundaries and consistency are very important.


how consistency helps

Trying to keep life as normal as possible can be helpful for everyone. While some things definitely just have to give, encourage your child to stay involved in as many of their regular activities as they can, including household chores.


A routine can help alleviate that surreal feeling that comes with cancer treatment. In other words, because of the difficult circumstances the whole family is facing, keeping things as normal as possible will actually help everyone cope.


consistency and siblings

Sometimes, siblings can resent what they see as the special treatment their diagnosed brother or sister is getting. Communicating honestly can help, and so can consistent behaviour from other family members.


For example, if grandparents or other family members show over-the-top attention or accept different behaviour from the diagnosed child, this can be difficult for their siblings. Again, communication is the key to making sure they feel heard and understood.


being protective vs overprotective

A parent’s natural desire to protect their child increases when they are diagnosed with cancer. But even for younger children, this can be uncomfortable if they feel they are being “babied”. For a teenager or young adult who is already used to independence, this increased attention can be overwhelming. The challenge is to find a balance between being protective and being over-protective. Once again, frequent, honest communication will help.


With all these aspects of parenting through cancer, talking things over with your hospital social worker is a great first step. And don’t forget, you can also talk with the Redkite support team.

Last updated September 2015.