On July 21, 2008 life as I knew it changed forever; I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My first reaction? Quite frankly I was really annoyed and angry! I didn’t have time for cancer and neither did my husband and children. My work s a child psychologist afforded me much insight into the thoughts and feelings of children whose parents were battling cancer. I believe my experience with these amazingly strong and resilient kids offered me the knowledge I needed to help my own kids negotiate our family health crisis.
Here is some of what I learned:
Managing the Information
1.) Honesty is usually the best policy. Children are very perceptive. It is difficult to keep a health crisis from them. Often the inadvertently overhear bits and pieces of information. If you fail to acknowledge that something is going on, they make incorrect assumptions which can cause unnecessary anxiety and fear.
2.) Offer only what they can manage developmentally and emotionally. Avoid lying.
3.) Offer direct answers to direct questions. Do not attempt to change the subject. Vague or indirect answers can result in needless worry.
4.) It is not what you present, but how you present that can make all the difference. They look to you to model a reaction. If you are calm and reassuring, they will react in kind.
5.) Decide who is best suited for the job. If you are unable to deliver the news without being overly emotional, anxious, or fearful, give the job to someone else better suited.
To Thyne Own Self Be True
In order to take care of your kids, you need to take care of yourself. I can assure you I found this out first hand.
1.) Develop a support system.
2.) Avoid relying too much on your kids. While they will be anxious to help you, remember, they are feeling a lot of stress now too.
3.) Ask for help when you need it.
4.) Allow yourself to accept help. Your friends and family want to feel useful. When you allow them to help you, everybody wins.
5.) Be honest about what you need, as well as what you don’t.
Are the Kids Alright?
1.) Develop a quick check-in system with them. For example, ask them to tell you on a scale of 1-5 how they are doing (1=fine, 5=in distress).
2.) Check in with them often.
3.) Look to others to find out how they are doing. Talk to the parents of their friends, talk to teachers, coaches, etc. They may mask their reactions when they are around you because they want to protect you.
1.) Find ways for them to feel helpful.
2.) Whenever possible, live life as usual
3.) Keep them informed of any changes.
4.) Encourage them to talk.
5.) Don’t be afraid to discuss their fears.
6.) Laugh often!
The journey can be difficult but, when you allow your kids to walk along with you, everyone feels empowered.