Whenever a friend or a relative learns that she has cancer she is often more worried about her children getting through this, than about herself. Questions as to how should to tell them what's going on and how to keep life normal for them during her treatment often assail her.
You can offer practical help, suggests Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent is Sick (McGraw Hill, 2006). Co-authored by two Harvard psychiatrists, the book describes a decade of experience from Massachusetts General Hospital's Parenting at a Challenging Time (PACT) program, which helps seriously ill parents of young children.
By offering to be a "captain of kindness," you can take some of the pressure off, by helping to organize the helpful efforts of those in your friend's life.
• Keep a list of things your friend needs assistance with, such as routine shopping, laundry, yard work, and driving children to activities. This will allow you to assign specific tasks to those who wish to help.
• Help schedule carpooling and playdates for days that she is seeing the doctor or having treatments.
• Become the point person to organize who will bring the family meals on what days.
• Keep calendars of children's activities, phone numbers of contacts, or lists of what needs to be packed in a diaper bag or backpack for use by others who wish to help.
Knowing what illness means to children of various ages can help you be a better listener when a loved one expresses worries about her children. It can also help manage your own kids' reactions.
Preschool thinking (ages 3-6). A preschooler experiences an event only in relation to how it affects him directly. They believe that everything happens for a reason, never by chance or luck, and that reason often has to do with them. So, a young child is likely to believe he caused his mother's illness.
Grade school children (ages 6-12). At this age, kids should know the name of the illness and be given a simple explanation of the condition and the treatment plan. They will benefit from hearing what did and did not cause the illness and whether they can "catch" it.
Adolescents. An adolescent can fall behind if emotional distress associated with a parent's medical condition interferes with her concentration. It's important to be aware of signs that a teen might be getting involved in risky behaviors or displaying symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child When a Parent is Sick is available in bookstores and through online booksellers.