Supporting your child before, during and after cancer treatment

Supporting your child before, during and after cancer treatment

You and your child will benefit from being well prepared. Ask as many questions as you need to get a clear understanding of what is going to happen and why.

Key points to remember

This page is part of a whole section about childhood cancer.

  • being prepared will help you gain confidence
  • this positive approach helps to pass on a feeling of security to your child
  • ask as many questions as you need to

Helping your child before treatment

Be prepared

It is common for you to feel stress in this situation. You and your child will benefit from being well prepared. Being prepared can help you gain confidence. This positive approach helps to pass on a feeling of security to your child.

Ask questions

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

Use techniques to help your child cope

Read to your child in hospital. For a range of techniques to help your child cope with their treatment, see Techniques to help your child with cancer treatment. Select and practice a technique to use with your child.

Try to remain with your child during treatment

Separation from you may significantly increase your child's feelings of fear and anxiety about their 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 with them throughout the procedure

See Helping your child manage their treatment - but remember it's not specifically for children with cancer.

What if you can't remain with your child during treatment?

Sometimes, parents/caregivers feel unable to remain in the room during a procedure and sometimes, for example in the operating theatre, it is not possible to be present. If that is the case:

  • 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 during the treatment - that way, they can contact you easily afterward

How to help during the treatment or procedure

You might also find this page helpful although it's not specifically for children with cancer - Painful procedures and operations - how can parents help?

Your role is to support your child

Your role during a procedure is to support your child, rather than to help the healthcare professional.

If at all possible, don't become involved in any physical restraint when health professionals are treating your child. An example of physical restraint is holding your child's arm still.

Tips to distract your child from focusing on the treatment

It can be difficult to know what to do and what to say to your child in a clinical environment like a treatment room. Here are some tips that distract focus from the treatment. Others have found that they increase confidence for parents/caregivers, increase a sense of security for children, and minimise feelings of anxiety for both.

  • have your child sit on your knee if they want to - if treatment can happen safely in this position
  • or, if possible sit near your child's head so that you can keep eye contact with them
  • help your child to visualise happy experiences – start by saying something 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 do 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

If your child is upset, tell them you understand

A child's behaviour is their main 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 or to suggest that it is unacceptable behaviour for a child of their age.

How to help after the treatment or procedure

Try to be with your child immediately after treatment

Being with your child immediately after the procedure can be very comforting for them.

If you can, be available to comfort your child immediately after the procedure whether or not you were present during the procedure.

Tell your child they did well

Children will feel and cope better if they know you are not judging them on the basis of their behaviour in a stressful situation.

Tell your child that they did well during the procedure no matter how they behaved.

Talk about the treatment afterwards

Reviewing the details of the procedure can clear up misunderstandings 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.

Try a reward system

A reward system, with praise and positive comments from you, lets your child know they successfully achieved the procedure.

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 Child Cancer Foundation beads of courage for all treatments and procedures.

All the pages 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 clinical leader of the National Child Cancer Network.

This page last reviewed 05 June 2018.
Email us your feedback


On this page