Getting professional help

Many professionals and organisations can help you communicate with your children throughout your experience with cancer. You don’t need to have a specific problem to make contact with these services.

You can ask for help even before breaking the news to your children. The health professionals can practise the conversations with you so that you feel better prepared.

You can also ask health professionals and organisations for help if you are worried about your children’s behaviour. You may choose to see or call the professional yourself, and to use their advice to sort out the problem. Most parents, with the right advice, can support their children through the most difficult situations. Occasionally, a child may need to attend a consultation, and parents may be asked to come too.

When to seek help

These suggestions may help you decide whether you should contact a professional for advice about your children:

If you are worried – A parent’s instincts about their children are usually pretty accurate. Some families tolerate and deal with behaviour that other families find unacceptable. You need to decide what is worrying behaviour in the context of your family and your child’s development.

Ongoing behavioural change – If your child’s behaviour has changed (e.g. aggressive or regressive behaviour) and the change persists, it may be worth seeking advice. It’s not unusual for a child to revert to less mature ways of coping, such as wetting the bed. A few times is okay, but if it goes on every night for a month, the child is clearly struggling. Another example is when a child refuses to go to school. They may say they are too sick for school, but actually have separation anxiety and think they have to stay home to look after Mum. An occasional reluctance to go to school is not unusual, but if it becomes a pattern, it’s a warning sign.

A young person should be referred to professional help if they:

  • say they want to die too
  • are extremely preoccupied with dying
  • suffer academically or at work for an extended period after the death
  • act sad and withdrawn, or demonstrate severe behaviour like self-harm
  • have trouble socialising
  • simply need someone to talk to.

Who can help?

There are several places to look for professional help. Here are some ideas:

  • Your specialist and GP – Not all doctors feel comfortable about how to talk to children about cancer. It will depend on the doctor and the relationship you have with them. Ask if they can help.
  • Nurses – Nurses may be the most constant contact you have with the treatment centre and are a source of valuable information and support.
  • Social workers – Social workers talk to patients every day about communication issues and have a wealth of knowledge. They can also help you work out if there are other professionals that can help meet your family’s needs.
  • Psychologists and counsellors – These professionals can help you work through communication and behavioural issues. Call Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20 for more information.
  • Psychiatrists – Depending on the seriousness of the situation, you may need to see a psychiatrist. You will need a referral from a GP if you are being treated privately.
  • School counsellors – They are trained in child development and can be an enormous source of support and ideas.

If you feel overwhelmed

Research shows that a child’s ability to cope is closely linked to how their parents are faring. Kids often copy their parents’ behaviour, so if their mum or dad is depressed and anxious, they are more likely to be too.

There are many sources of support for you. Family and friends are usually keen to help. Let them know what you need because they may not know the best way they can help. They probably have a limited understanding of what you’re going through and will be relieved that you can ask for help and give them something to do.

Assistance from organisations or the government for practical and financial difficulties can help reduce your stress. Other ways to help reduce your worry include complementary therapies, such as massage, hypnotherapy or relaxation techniques. These may give you some time out and help to improve your sleep.

Contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 for copies of its free resources that may help you cope with cancer.

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