"How Do I Help My Child Process The Trauma Of Childhood Cancer?"

Cancer is emotionally traumatizing at any age. Children often lack the language to describe their emotions and memories accurately, which can be distressing for children and parents alike. If your child has been affected by childhood cancer, you may wonder how to support them in processing what they have been through. Trauma is a lifelong journey, and no two children will follow the exact same path of healing. 
Many children have behavioral difficulties after a traumatic event. This can include crying, yelling, aggression, avoiding school, sleeping poorly, and more. When children are having trouble in day to day life after a traumatic event, professional support may be needed. Your child's oncology or primary medical team may be able to provide mental health referrals if you have these concerns. Sometimes, children do not have obvious behavioral concerns. Still, you may worry about how cancer has affected your child and feel eager to help them talk through it.
Balance is key to helping children express their feelings. Children need regular opportunities to open up, but pressure to share can make them feel less comfortable. Giving children control and choices is incredibly important for their healing, and that includes providing them with agency regarding when and how they process difficult experiences. Here is one example of how to make that happen.
Choose how often you and your child can have "Check In Time" together (such as once a week or once a month). During Check In Time, your child can choose from the following options (or other options, as appropriate):
  • Talking about hard memories or big feelings
  • Reading
  • Drawing
  • Playing with 1-2 small toys
Try to keep supplies for Check In Time in a basket or drawer so they are easy to gather. Your child may initially pick one activity and then ask to transition to another. This is especially true for children who struggle to voice their emotions - even when they choose to talk about their feelings, they may need to take a break.  Keeping a set menu of options and items helps to ensure that there is an easy activity to pivot to as needed.
When children know that there are consistent opportunities for them to share how they are doing, it takes the pressure off of any one moment. This gives them the freedom to truly choose when and how they want to have deep conversations. The positive memories that come from spending one on one time together doing simple activities are also very healing for children who have been through trauma. 

All content on Cancer Cushion is provided for informational purposes only. Individuals experiencing a mental health emergency should contact their local crisis line or dial 988.

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