Techniques to help your child with cancer treatment

Techniques to help your child with cancer treatment

There are some techniques you can use to help your child cope with treatments which they see as uncomfortable or frightening.

Which techniques can I use to help my child cope with their treatment?

The following are some techniques which can help a child cope with treatments which they see as uncomfortable or frightening:

  • distraction
  • participation
  • de-sensitisation
  • guided imagery
  • self instruction
  • relaxation

What can you do?

  • read through the techniques with your child and talk with them about the activities that appeal and how the activities you choose can be used
  • ask your nurse for any help you need to prepare for your chosen activity - for example, you may want a TV, laptop or tablet in the treatment room or chosen games or books


Distraction provides an alternative focus minimising fear and anxiety. Any of these can be used to help distract a child:

  • interactive books, musical buttons, pop-up books
  • favourite stories
  • a story read by an adult with the child contributing - the story can be about your child's favourite character, who is undergoing the same medical procedure and who is a superhero
  • bubbles - your child can blow them or an adult can blow them and your child can blow or pat them away
  • puppets, jack-in-the-box or kaleidoscope
  • counting games
  • spotting games - the number of times a certain object appears - the number of different animals in a picture etc
  • a TV programme
  • computer games
  • photographs from home, holiday, friends, pets, school, etc
  • favourite music or even chanting
  • favourite toy or favourite comforter
  • for infants - stroking, nursery rhymes, songs such as 'pat-a-cake', swaddling, rocking and patting may be soothing and distracting


Allow your child involvement in some or all of the following.

  • helping the nurse to prepare for the procedure
  • touching and manipulating safe equipment
  • choosing the place for an injection or blood test - for example, choose which finger for the skin prick

If I think my child will benefit from participation, how do I arrange it?

Speak to your nurse during arrangements for the treatment and tell them that your child would like to help with the preparations.


This technique can be a very helpful approach with some children. It usually requires the help of a hospital play specialist, senior nurse or child psychologist.

The technique allows your child to encounter whatever they fear in a graded, step by step way. Your child decides the pace so that they associate the feared object with a comfortable emotional state.

How can I get more information about de-sensitisation?

Speak to your nurse and say that you and your child are interested and would like to know more.

Where do we get help if we decide to try de-sensitisation?

Your nurse will make all the arrangements necessary.

Guided imagery

The aim is to guide your child to imagine themselves in another place, or occupied with a chosen activity. Your child is guided by the narration to visualise themselves in a place of their choice, which has been pre-determined and discussed. It may be helpful to write down a story. Examples are a favourite holiday location, your child's own bedroom, and activities in the playground.

You or a staff member can be the narrator - or you can play a prerecorded narration during treatment.

Adolescents can use this technique particularly well, and may prefer to have soothing music playing while they take themselves to a 'special place' in their imagination.


  • positive self-talk - "I can do it"; "this will be over soon"; "I'll be OK"
  • parental coaching: "you can do it"; "this will be over soon"; "you will be OK"
  • thought stopping: your child makes a conscious effort not to think about the procedure and concentrates on thinking about other experiences
  • self-pacing, counting: useful combined with deep breathing


  • deep breathing
  • blowing
  • aromatherapy
  • massage
  • soothing music
  • dimmed lighting

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 03 October 2013.
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