Young friends have great capacity to share hope and good cheer with the family fighting childhood cancer.
Connection with friends is a vital to a child’s well-being during cancer therapy. Children develop social skills through interaction with others, so maintaining communication is particularly important for healthy social development of the young child with cancer.
Stay In Touch
Like adults, children are concerned about their friend who has cancer, and want to feel they are doing something to help. However, they may not have the vocabulary to articulate those feelings, or the understanding to know what can help.
Talk to your children about how they feel, and how they could show their support.
Ask the parents if visits are appropriate. Send letters, cards, and pictures. Make telephone calls, or record a fun audio/video tape full of messages. Design a bright, encouraging poster or banner to decorate the hospital room, or send small gifts such as Mylar® balloons.
To avoid upset for all children, check if the hospital has any restrictions on gifts. For example, many do not allow rubber balloons as they are a choking hazard.
Keep the Child Connected
Tell the child what is going on in the world beyond cancer. This will help her feel she is still included in things. If she usually participates in sports, keep her up-to-date with team performance and scores.
If the child is of school-age, ask the teacher to help by sending updates from the class. Telephone calls from the whole class are often very encouraging.
Even if you think the child is too ill to go out, don’t stop inviting her to activities. Children need to know they are thought about, wanted and included.
The child may be too ill to play, but she may still want to come and soak up the atmosphere of fun with her friends. She may simply be boosted by the invitation.
If the children are old enough, help them to understand about cancer, and the treatment their friend is experiencing, what happens in hospital and why. Let them ask questions, and give them honest answers. It is OK to say “I don’t know”.
Awareness of what their friend has experienced will help children support her when she starts / rejoins school and the social community. Understanding also reduces the risk of prejudice, fear, hurtful comments and misunderstandings.
If the child wishes to, let her talk about her experience, but don’t put her on the spot. She may prefer that other people do not know what has happened.
There are many wonderful online and printed resources designed to help children understand about cancer. Some of these could be used as the basis of a class project about visiting the doctor or hospital, or about cancer specifically for older children.
Talk with the parents of the child who has cancer before embarking on any program. They may have strong opinions either way, and may be able to give you some helpful ideas.