Mindfulness Tips for Retinoblastoma Families and Supporting Teachers

Monday June 24, 2019

Living with the daily effects of childhood eye cancer can be overwhelming, for all family members. Both the immediate crisis of diagnosis and treatment, and the long-term impacts and risks. Child Life Intern and Student Teacher, Meagan Fuller, highlights some simple mindfulness techniques parents and children can use to ease daily tension.


Five smooth pebbles are stacked in decreasing size on a beach, where lively surf rolls into shore. The high sky is clear blue, with a few clouds above the horizon, which is lightly tinged with a pale peachy glow of sunrise or sunset.

Stacking smooth stones or pebbles is form of meditation for some people. Each one represents a thought of gratitude, a prayer or a worry that has been laid down in the present moment.

Focusing on the Mind and Body

We practice mindfulness in our everyday routines. We are consistently making decisions about what we need to do and what is happening around us. We regulate our emotions and are mindful to our thoughts and feelings.

Mindfulness allows us to focus on our minds and bodies. When people practice mindfulness, they do not let what is happening around them impact their state of mind, or cause them to feel overwhelmed.

Below are some simple mindfulness tips for parents to use at the hospital or at home, and for teachers to consider.

Tips for Parents and Children at the Hospital

When a child is receiving treatment at the hospital, the experience can be quite scary for the whole family. Focusing on your mind and body will help you to feel more at ease.

Breathe and Scan

A simple practice you can do together with your child while waiting to see a health care practitioner is to simply concentrate on your breathing, and scan the room you are in. If the room seems scary, ask yourselves why. Try to figure out if the room is really scary, of if you or your child have some worries.

Encourage your child to relax their body, and give reassurance that you will not leave them. Parents need to express to their child that they will be here to help them, no matter what fears or questions they have.

Prepare in Advance

When you know your child’s hospital appointment is approaching, you can tell your child a couple days before to properly prepare them for that appointment day. This creates space for conversation and preparation play that can help ease any uncertainties you and your child have, and opportunity to write down any questions each of you have for the medical professional team. This will help all members of your family be better able to cope with the appointment on the day.

Comfort Items

If your child has a favorite toy, stuffed animal or lucky charm from home, bring it to the hospital to help ease any uncertainties they might be experiencing. Tell your child it is okay to bring their special item. Hospitals also have mindfulness items available for children to play with, such as art and crafts and distraction toys.

Overall, the child needs to know health practitioners are only here to help them with their medical journey, and parents are here to comfort and support them throughout their experience.

Tips for Parents and Children at Home

The Best Time to Do Mindfulness Activities

Parents and children can practice mindfulness at any time during the day.  The morning when your child wakes up, and at night before going to bed are especially appropriate and meaningful times.

Morning: This will give the child opportunity to discuss anything that may have caused them distress during the night, and help to make sure they are ready to start the day with a positive mindset.

Evening: The child can discuss any happenings during the day that caused them distress, and settle down to a more restful night.

Mindful Activities

Children and parents can read books, create a list of coping strategies or do arts and crafts together.

High energy children: Interactive activities are especially helpful. This could be as simple as playing one of their favorite games, or playing outside / going for a walk.

Low energy children: any quiet activity that the child enjoys are good relaxation strategies. Examples are practicing meditation, yoga (the child can even create their own yoga posses), reading or doing arts and crafts like coloring.

How These Activities Benefit Your Child

All of these activities are therapeutic for the mind and body. While your child is participating in these activities, you – their parents – will most likely be able to judge how they are feeling, by engaging with them, listening to them and reading their body language. When you are more aware of your child’s current concerns, you will be more able to support them.

Tips for Teachers at School

Most classroom sizes are quite big. So it can be challenging for the teacher to meet all the individual needs of his/her students without making multiple modifications.

Here are six tips and suggestions to transform the classroom to create a calming and relaxing learning environment for all children. Especially valuable when educating a student experiencing childhood cancer:

1. Relaxing Music

Playing soothing music on low volume will create a calming environment for the students and teacher to complete their work.

2. Guided Meditation

Follow a pre-recorded guided meditation for a few minutes. You can find many videos on YouTube. Meditation is good coping technique for everyone. It enables students to take a moment to think about the present moment instead of their busy school day. I often use ‘New Horizon- Meditation & Sleep Stories. https://www.youtube.com/user/NewHorizonHolistic/featured

3. Body Breaks

I really find this beneficial because it gets the heart pumping and lets students release energy before focusing on a new subject.

4. Dim the Lights

Softer lighting can help improve students’ mood, confidence and focus. This should be done in consultation with vision impaired students, for whom lighting is important, to prevent unnecessary stress and negative impacts on their learning ability.

5. Teach outdoors

Whenever possible, prepare lessons that are conducive for outdoor learning, as being outside is very therapeutic. Fresh air and green space can help recharge our mind and body, and focus attention for quality learning.

6. Comfort Toys

Allow students to keep their favorite stuffed animal or a small distraction toy on their desk, The object is a comfort blanket for students, knowing they have piece of home with them at all times.

3 Mindfulness Activities to Try

These three mindfulness activities can be completed at the hospital, at home or at school. Few resources are needed and each one is cost effective to complete. They are suitable for both younger and older children, with some modification to make the activity easier or more challenging.

Breathing Dragon

A colourful construction paper and toiket roll dragon, with tissue paper flames emerging from its mouth.

The breathing dragon helps children concentrate on their breathing.

The breathing dragon helps children concentrate on their breathing. When the child breathes out deeply through the toilet roll dragon head, the wind tunnel created will cause the “flames” to roar outwards from the dragon’s mouth. Learn more about Dragon Breathing.

List of supplies needed:

  • Paper towel or toilet paper roll
  • Construction paper to cover the roll, for the eyes and to make the fire dragon breath
  • Tissue paper, for the fire dragon breath
  • Pom-poms and googly eyes, for more crafty dragons
  • Scissors, glue/tape

Mindfulness Jar

This is the finial product of a mindfulness jar project I worked with a patient.

The mindfulness jar is used to help children cope with their thoughts and feelings and for relaxation. The jar creates a swirl of glitter and colour when you shake it.

List of supplies needed:

  • Clear jar
  • Dish soap (fill the jar with water and dish soap)
  • Glitter (add glitter to the water and dish soap)
  • Glue gun or super glue (to glue on the lid)
  • Gems (optional, to decorate and personalize the jar).

My Magic Breath

This book ‘My Magic Breath’ touches on calm feelings through mindfulness breathing.

After reading this story with your child and/or students, invite them to draw a picture of their own magic breath. This expressive art activity can help children convey the color and shape of what they are feeling.

What you will need:

  • Piece of paper
  • Coloring pencils and/or markers
My Magic Breath book cover. The title is in the top left corner. A child in the bottom left corner breathes out ribbons and swirls of dark and light colours, forming a funnel of colour that gradually fills the centre and upper right-hand quarter of the cover. The background is primarily white, graduating to blue in the top right corner.

My Magic Breath: finding calm through mindful breathing. Written by Nick Ortner, Alison Taylor. Pictures by Michelle Polizzi

A Final Word

Speaking with your child and/or students about feelings and emotions is key to facilitating conversation, and to knowing what state of mind they are in. This allows you to properly plan an activity, and to prepare yourself for potential conversation that may arise. It is important to ensure the child knows you will be there whenever they need a listening ear.

Please take some time to try out the activities listed above for your mutual well-being.

About the Author

Meagan Fuller is currently a Child life intern working with Morgan Livingstone at her private practice in Toronto, Canada. She graduated from Carleton University (Ottawa, ON, Canada) in 2016 with a BA honors degree in Child Studies. She is currently studying for her teaching degree at the University of Ottawa education department. She also volunteers in various units throughout the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa.

Meagan has always envisioned herself working with children to positively impact their lives; She is passionate for children and their wellbeing. From an early age she knew that when she grew up she wanted to work with children in the educational or medical environment. Her goal is to work as a Child Life Specialist and one day bring Child Life into the school system.