How To Help Kids With Cancer Feel Secure About Themselves

A child’s cancer treatment is so much more than just fighting the cancer. A major part of his treatment involves caring for his emotional well-being and adjusting to the lifestyle changes that cancer brings.

Kids feel a range of emotions when it comes to cancer—sadness, anger, loneliness, and more. One that I frequently notice is insecurity.

Whether it’s about being sure of his place in peer social groups or about feeling safe in the hospital, insecurity is a problem that many kids with cancer face. Luckily, there are things that parents can do to help kids feel secure.

Helping Kids With Cancer Feel Secure About Body Image

Cancer can cause physical changes, such as surgical scars or weight gain. These changes can be scary or embarrassing, and could lead to poor body image—particularly in older kids and teenagers who worry about being accepted by their peers.

It’s important to address these changes instead of trying to hide them. Honesty builds trust and shows that you’re there for emotional support.

And according to the National Association of Social Workers, adolescents with supportive families are less likely to have poor body image. This support also decreases their risk of engaging in dangerous weight loss behaviors when they become teenagers.

You can also help them cope by encouraging them to take their minds off of their bodies. Help them turn their focus toward other activities, such as music or art—activities that The Arts Education Partnership says can boost confidence and self-esteem.

Coping With Hair Loss

Hair loss is one of the most common physical changes in kids with cancer. For many kids, hair loss can be traumatic or make them feel isolated.

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Soothing Safety Fears

Young kids might be afraid that their parents are going to leave them at the hospital, says the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). So, it’s important for them to feel a sense of security within their family.

If you can be at the hospital when your child is having a procedure, remind him you’ll be right outside the whole time—and will be there when he gets back.

It’s not always possible to stay at the hospital, especially if you work or are caring for other kids. However, you can still make your child feel secure and safe.

Set up a time to call or text every day, so you have a daily connection. And if possible, have another family member or friend pay a visit.

You can also give your child something of yours that he knows you will return for. We have kids say things like, “Mom gave me her watch. I know it’s her watch, so she’ll come back. That makes me feel good.”

Handling Health And Independence Insecurities

As kids get older, they might start to feel insecure about their own health. The ASCO says that by the time they reach their teenage years, kids are more likely to be concerned with symptoms, and can understand the relationship between symptoms, cancer, and treatment.

Teens might also feel insecure about their level of control. According to the ASCO, teens might want to be involved in making decisions about their treatment.

To help your teen feel more secure about her health, the ACSO recommends finding out your teen’s personal fears, and talking through them together and with a physician.

And since teens hear a lot about cancer from outside sources (e.g., movies, friends who know someone with cancer, etc.), try to keep track of what she hears. That way, you can discuss how these ideas do or do not apply to her.

You can also try:

  • Creating an emergency plan together, and making sure that people around her are aware of her plan
  • Reminding her of famous people who have beaten cancer and gone on to do great things
  • Setting her up with a cancer survivor close to her age to discuss strategies for getting through tough times
  • Letting her be in charge of taking her medication—but helping her come up with ways to remember what to do
  • Having her meet with her physician alone, so she can ask her own questions and feel like she’s being independent

Overcoming Social Worries

No kid wants to feel left behind. But if kids with cancer have been missing school or haven’t been allowed to leave the house, they might start to feel that way.

Social activity is a good way to counteract those feelings. According to a December 2015 study in the journal Pediatric Blood & Cancer, social activities can lessen a child’s sense of isolation, and reassure him that he has a secure support system.

However, kids with cancer often have less social interaction than other kids their age. So, it’s important to make an extra special effort to help him get in that social time.

If he’s able to have visitors, schedule plenty of visits with friends and family. If he’s doing schoolwork from the house or the hospital, have his friends drop off the work instead of picking it up yourself.

Encourage visits from people your child is used to seeing—like neighbors or a pastor—anyone who can make your child say, “These are still my people, and I still have a place in my community.”

This can give your kid a sense of belonging—reminding him that he is more than just his cancer diagnosis. He is, and always will be, a part of his community.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Christy Hogan
My background is in child development, and I use this knowledge to connect and build trust with patients and families. I’ve been a child life specialist for more than 20 years.

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