Parenting Through Cancer
Parenting with an illness impacts the whole family and can significantly affect children. As a parent, you may be thinking about how best to share information with your child and how to support them along the way. This can be overwhelming. Although there are many variables to keep in mind, typically children cope best when they are included in the situation with developmentally appropriate information and provided opportunities for continued family connection and self-expression. Through this ongoing support, children can learn to cope with challenging situations.
Child Life Services
Part of your comprehensive care at the cancer center includes the option to partner with a child life specialist. Child life specialists provide evidence-based care for children and families impacted by stress related to life challenges. Using a developmental approach and expertise in supporting children and families throughout illness, child life specialists create family centered care plans that aim to maximize coping and may include:
- Guidance related to how children typically understand, react, and cope with parental illness
- Recommendations regarding how to talk to children about an illness or medical situation
- Activities and tools to promote understanding and emotional expression
- Activities that celebrate the family and foster continued family connection
- Applicable resources: books, workbooks, handouts, websites, or outside referrals
For additional information regarding specific strategies for communicating about illness and coping activities for children and families, please visit the UC Davis Child Life Services webpage “Parenting with Illness.”
Resources for Children and Teens
UC Davis Children’s Hospital Support Group:
Coping Together: Supporting children through a parent’s illness | UC Davis: A support group for children ages 6 – 17 years old who have a parent with a serious illness. This group explores feelings and self-expression, play based illness education, and helps children think about and develop coping tools. Each session is facilitated by a child life specialist (and other disciplines based on the curriculum), trained in child development, coping, and self-expression. This group is offered in-person at the cancer center. To learn more, please email CopingTogether@ucdavis.edu.
Local Camp Option:
Camp Kesem: This camp is focused on creating fun experiences for children coping with a parent’s cancer diagnosis. Campers find adventure and creativity, build trust in themselves, and create new friendships.
McCue, K., & Bonn, R. How to help children through a parent's serious illness. St. Martin's Griffin; Second Edition, Revised, (2011) (Book)
Rauch, P. Raising an emotionally healthy child when a parent is sick. McGraw Hill; 1st edition, (2006) (Book)
Wonders & Worries: How to Explain a Cancer Diagnosis (English | Spanish) (Handout)
To read with your children:
McVicker, E. Butterfly kisses and wishes on wings: When someone you love has cancer. McVicker & Hersh, LLC; 7th edition, (2018) (Book, ages 5-10)
Heegaard, M. When someone has a very serious illness: Children can learn to cope with loss and change. Woodland Press; 1st edition, (1992) (Workbook, ages 8-12)
van Dernoot, P. Talking with my treehouse friends about cancer. Chicago Review Press – Fulcrum, (2007) (Workbook, ages 6-12)
Willard, C., & O'Leary, W. Breathing makes it better: A book for sad days, mad days, glad days, and all the feelings in-between. Bala Kids. (2019) (Book, ages 3 and up)
Silver, M., & Silver, M. My parent has cancer and it really sucks. Sourcebooks Fire; 1st edition, (2013)
National Cancer Institute. When your parent has cancer: A guide for teens. US Department of Health and Human Services, (2012)
Please contact child life specialist, Emily McDaniel, M.A., C.C.L.S., at email@example.com or 916-734-4034 for additional support and/or resources.