Suggestions for successful parent / caregiver support before, during and after treatments

Suggestions for successful parent / caregiver support before, during and after treatments

Parents / caregivers benefit from being well prepared for unfamiliar activities, just as children do. Ask your child's nurse to describe the procedure. Ask as many questions as you need to gain a clear understanding of what is to happen and why.

How to help before the treatment or procedure

Parents / caregivers benefit from being well prepared for unfamiliar activities, just as children do.

  • Ask your child's nurse to describe the procedure. Ask as many questions as you need to gain a clear understanding of what is to happen and why.

It is common for a parent / caregiver to feel stress in this situation. You can gain confidence by being prepared and this positive approach helps to convey a feeling of security to your child.

Separation from a parent / caregiver may significantly increase a child's feelings of fear and anxiety about the procedure.

  • If you are able to remain with your child during the treatment, this is the time to:
    - tell your child's nurse that you wish to be present and ask where you should be in the room
    - reassure your child that you will be present with them throughout the procedure

Sometimes, a parent / caregiver feels unable to remain in the room during a procedure and sometimes, for example in the operating theatre, it is not possible to be present.

  • Ask if you may stay with your child until they are asleep.
  • Explain to your child exactly where you will be while they are asleep and where you will be when they wake from the anaesthetic or when the treatment is finished.
  • Tell the nurse staying with your child where you will be while it is taking place, so you can be contacted easily afterward.

How to help during the treatment or procedure

The parent / caregiver's role during a procedure is to support their child, rather than to help the health care professional.

  • If at all possible, do not become involved in any physical restraint that may be necessary for the treatment to be administered. For example, holding your child's arm still.

It can be difficult in a clinical environment like a treatment room, for parents / caregivers to be certain about what to do and what to say. Here are some tips that have been found to increase confidence for parents / caregivers, enhance a sense of security for children and minimise feelings of anxiety for both by distracting focus from the treatment.

  • Have your child sit on your knee if they wish, if this position allows the treatment to safely take place.
  • Or, if possible sit near your child's head so that you can maintain eye contact.
  • Help your child to visualise happy experiences with openings like "remember when we went to the beach at the weekend" or "let's think of the birthday party we are going to next week".
  • Help your child imagine a pleasurable event, real or pretend to think about, then ask them to describe details to you. Encourage by your questions, as much sensory information as possible – sights, sounds, tastes or feelings.
  • Occupy your child with an activity that interests them: read a story, play with a toy or engage in mind games.
  • Take your child's hand and help them to take a deep breath, or count aloud, or sing a familiar song.
  • Tell your child you understand if they verbally express discomfort or displeasure.

A child's behaviour is their primary way of communicating feelings. It is normal for a child to express their anxieties about treatments with anger and frustration.

  • Tell your child you understand with soothing words and actions. For example, if your child is crying, there is no need to try to stop them nor to suggest that it is unacceptable behaviour for a child of their age.

How to help after the treatment or procedure

Parent / caregiver presence immediately after the procedure can be very comforting for children.

  • If you are able, be available to comfort your child immediately after the procedure whether or not you were present during the procedure.
Children will feel and cope better if they know they are not being judged on the basis of behaviour in a stressful situation.
  • Tell your child that they did well during the procedure no matter how their behaviour appeared.
Reviewing the details of the procedure can clarify misconceptions and provide information for use on future occasions.
  • Look back on the procedure and talk about it with your child to encourage them to express feelings.
A reward system reinforced with praise and positive comments from parents / caregivers signifies to a child successful achievement of the procedure, regardless of the ‘how' of the achievement.
  • You may like to use stars, stamps as achievement earners. Some children like to collect empty medicine cups as evidence of achievement. Remember that they can also collect the CCF Beads of Courage for all treatments and procedures

Acknowledgements

All the fact sheets in the Childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the National Child Cancer Network Clinical Leader.

This page last reviewed 26 March 2013.
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