When Kids With Cancer Think It’s All About Them

When Kids With Cancer Think It’s All About Them

Today’s post features guest author Sean Akers, PsyD, a licensed clinical pediatric psychologist here at Children’s.

“My needs come first right now. If I don’t get what I want, when I want it, I’m going to make you miserable.”

They might not say those exact words, but all kids are guilty of this line of thinking at some point during childhood. When you’re young and vulnerable, it’s a way of making sure your needs are met.

But if this mindset becomes constant, causing bad behavior on a regular basis, it might be time to take a step back. That’s even true if your child has a serious disease like cancer.

Of course, not all kids with cancer are prone to bad behavior. However, cancer creates a unique lifestyle that can make kids feel like their needs must be met all the time—and like they have an excuse to act out if those needs aren’t met.

Illness And Ego

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, two things tend to happen.

One, there is this incredible system that occurs quickly of “full-court press.” People come out and shower the child with presents and attention. For a little while, she might get anything she wants.

The second thing that happens is the child is hospitalized. Parents have so much to worry about that their parenting starts to be based on emotion and distress. Rules and guidelines go out the window.

That’s normal for a little while. But cancer is both an acute and chronic condition. At some point, you have to realize that you’re in this for the long haul. You can’t maintain constant presents and no rules forever—it’s not healthy for you or your child.

Noticing An Ego

One of the most important things is to be aware of these two processes. A little present here or there, or a couple of nights where your kid can stay up late to watch TV, is fine once in awhile. But you have to recognize when those things are becoming normal occurrences and your child has come to expect them.

Always remember that even though your child is sick, you still need to continue being a parent. You can be everything you want to be—loving, supportive, nurturing, caring, and compassionate. At the same time, remember that you might have to do things you don’t want to, like disciplining your child.

Approaching Bad Behavior

It’s not always easy to set rules when you have a child with cancer. However, making sure your child behaves when he’s sick will give him a sense of normalcy—and will make life during and after treatment much easier.

I recommend tackling the issue of behavior as a family. Take stock of everything that’s happening, and your child’s current behavior. Discuss what’s reasonable to expect from your child behaviorally when he’s fatigued, scared, etc. Set very clear boundaries and expectations.

For example, you could say, “On nights when you have chemotherapy, you can stay up late and watch TV with us. On other nights, you need to go to bed on time.”

It can be difficult, but be firm and stick to those expectations. If he’s being demanding or impolite, make sure he knows that’s not allowed. And if the behavior continues, don’t be afraid to discipline him, such as putting him in a time-out, just as you always would have.

A Closer Look

If your child is starting to get a little on the egotistical side, it might not be because she’s taking advantage of the attention. It’s possible that she doesn’t realize how she’s acting.

Sometimes, the bad behavior is a result of something else that’s going on. Your child might be frustrated about lack of control, scared about pokes, confused about what’s happening to her body, or just plain not feeling well. It could take her a while to adjust to all of the new changes in her life.

What’s the answer? Allow her to express her feelings in an appropriate way. Encourage her to tell you how she feels, and reassure her that you’ll be there for her. That might be all she needs to calm down and get her behavior under control.

Bad behavior can have several causes when your child is sick. Understanding those causes and responding with love and consistent discipline will go a long way toward correcting the behavior. It also will help your child feel safer and more secure in the long run.

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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