Changes to look out for

A child who is affected by parental cancer could be experiencing changes such as extra responsibilities and a home life that has become more chaotic. Find out more about the impact a parent’s cancer can have on a child.

Signs to watch out for in a child that is affected are:

For some children school work, including homework, may not always be a priority as they are preoccupied with what is going on at home.

  • Child’s attendance
  • School performance
  • Social relationships
  • Behaviour

Behavioural and Emotional Changes

4-6 year olds

  • Thumb sucking
  • Fear of the dark/monsters/strangers/animals
  • Nightmares
  • Disrupted sleep (sleepwalking, bed-wetting)
  • Conversing with baby talk
  • Stuttering
  • Apathy
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fear of separation
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Repeating questions on the same topic

7-11 year olds

  • Being scared, anxious and worried. ‘My world is falling apart. I’m afraid that my parent might die. I’m afraid that someone else in my family might catch cancer. I’m afraid that something might happen to my parent at home, and I won’t know what to do.’
  • Crying and feeling sad.
  • Being angry or irritable, fighting or shouting. ‘I am mad that my parent got sick. I am upset at the doctors. I am angry at myself for feeling the way I do.’
  • Neglected. ‘I feel left out. I don’t get any attention. No one ever tells me what’s going on. My family never talks anymore.’
  • Guilty. ‘I feel guilty because I’m healthy and my parent is sick. I feel guilty when I laugh and have fun.’
  • Lonely. ‘No one understands what I’m going through. My friends don’t come over anymore. My friends don’t seem to know what to say to me anymore.’
  • Embarrassed. ‘I’m sometimes embarrassed to be out in public with my sick parent, especially when they wear a wig. I don’t know how to answer people’s questions. ‘
  • Envy. ‘My friends get to play and I have to look after my sick parent. My friends don’t have any problems.’
  • Complaining of physical ailments, eg, headaches, stomach aches, which may mirror their parent’s symptoms or side effects.
  • Separation anxiety when coming to school.
  • Poor concentration and easily becoming distracted during lessons.
  • Poor academic performance.
  • Withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Finding it difficult adapting to changes (such as a replacement teacher or new schedule).
  • Fear of new situations.
  • Sensitivity to shame
  • Trying to be ‘extra good’ which increases the risk