- Cancer Information
- Family and friends
- Talking to kids about cancer
- Talking: Treatment
- Family life during treatment
- Spending one-on-one time
Spending one-on-one time
When a family member is diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult for parents to spend one-on-one time with their children. One way to focus your attention and care is to schedule a weekly 30-minute session with your child or teenager. This will help them feel important, valued and understood.
If you have more than one child, you may need to alternate weeks depending on your energy levels.
A younger child may not have developed the thinking or language skills to describe how they’re feeling, but a play session can help the child to express feelings, make sense of events, and understand the world. They may:
- act out a story with toys or puppets
- use fantasy and dress-up
- draw or paint
- play games
- talk about their experiences.
During a play session, comment on what they’re doing using empathy or observation, which will let them know that you are interested in what they are doing, saying and feeling. They may play on their own or invite you to play with them. Avoid asking questions or correcting your child. This time is for them to lead the way. Their play may reveal an inner world that you may never have known about from what they say.
It’s common for teenagers to prefer spending more time with friends, but they may like to visit a favourite cafe, go for a walk, watch a movie or listen to music with you.
“I tried to get some rest during the day so that I was bright and more energetic when the family came home from school and work in the evening. I didn’t want them to feel they had a sick Mum all the time – I was only sick from the treatment, not from the disease itself.
It was important to spend time together as a family. Special times together often opened up questions for the kids.
Talking is not the only way of communicating about feelings – in fact, it often goes over the head of a young child. When my kids were younger, it worked better to use dolls or stuffed animals to play out being sick, having treatment and getting well again.”
Liz, mother of three children aged 10, 16 and 18
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
We thank the reviewers of this book: Professor Kate White, Chair of Nursing, The University of Sydney, NSW; Sarah Ellis, Psychologist, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Kids with Cancer Foundation, Sydney Children’s Hospital, NSW; Kate Fernandez, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Chandra Franken, Program Manager – NSW & ACT, Starlight Children’s Foundation, NSW; John Friedsam, General Manager of Divisions, CanTeen, NSW; Keely Gordon-King, Cancer Counselling Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland; Stephanie Konings, Research Officer, CanTeen, NSW; Sally and Rosie Morgan, Consumers; Dr Pandora Patterson, General Manager, Research and Youth Cancer Services, Canteen, and Adjunct Associate Professor, Cancer Nursing Research Unit, The University of Sydney, NSW and Visiting Professor, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, UK; Suzanne Rumi, Consumer; Michael Sieders, Primary School Program Manager, Camp Quality.
We would also like to thank the health professionals, consumers, organisations and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title, and we are grateful to the parents and young people whose real-life stories have added to the richness and relevance of this book.
We thank and acknowledge Dr Paula K. Rauch, MD, Founding Director, Marjorie E. Korff PACT (Parenting At a Challenging Time) Program and Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, whose research and writing on helping parents talk to their children about cancer was used as source material for this book and has been adapted in several sections: pages 8 -11, Different views of cancer; page 24, Answering key questions: Are you going to die?; pages 26 -27, Involving the school or preschool; pages 30 -31, Prepare for hospital and treatment centre visits; and page 37, Encouraging family time. We also thank the American Cancer Society for permission to use and adapt material on pages 8 -11 from its book Cancer in Our Family: Helping children cope with a parent’s illness (2013); Macmillan Cancer Support for permission to use its book Talking to Children and Teenagers When an Adult Has Cancer (2013) as a source of information; Jessica Watt, Oncology Social Worker, Children’s Hospital Westmead, for her contribution on page 18, When another child has cancer; Diane McGeachy, Hobart Counselling Centre, for contributing material for page 38, Spending one-on-one time; and Dr Ranjana Srivastava, and The Guardian for permission to adapt €œHow do you tell your children you have cancer? €_x009d_, on pages 21 and 47 – full story is available at https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/29/how-do-you-tell-your-children-you-have-cancer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.