Helping your child cope with leukemia

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Learn what you can do to help your child cope with leukemia treatment, procedures, and side effects.

Key points

  • It is important to use correct terminology when describing your child's leukemia.
  • Be honest with your child about their illness and clarify any misconceptions they have about what might have caused their leukemia.
  • Prepare your child for upcoming procedures and side effects of chemotherapy.

Talking to your child about their illness may be one of the most difficult conversations you have with them. Use age-appropriate language and be hopeful. When talking to your child, here are some useful tips to keep in mind.

Use the right words

It is important that you use the right words to describe your child’s leukemia. Do not be afraid to use the words "cancer" or "leukemia." They will inevitably hear nurses, doctors, friends, and relatives talk about leukemia in the hospital or at home. If these words have not been explained, it can be upsetting and confusing for your child.

When explaining to your child, use simple, accessible language that is age-appropriate. For example, if your child is young, tell them that their blood is sick, and that they will be given medicines to help it get better. Be honest, and tell your child that they might feel worse before getting better.

Be honest

Be open and honest with your child about their illness. It will build a healthy relationship between you and your child, which is necessary while your child faces the rigorous treatment process. It is okay to tell your child that you do not have all the answers. Do not promise something that is not in your power to control. If you are not sure how to respond to a question, say “That’s a good question. I don’t know, so let’s ask the doctor.”

Your child is sensitive to how you feel and can sense if something is bothering you. While it is healthy to show your emotions, if you are very distressed, it may upset them more. Parents can be referred to child life specialists, social workers, and psychologists, who can provide further support.

Clarify the myths and facts about leukemia

It is important to remind your child, and yourself, that no one is to blame for the illness. It is not known what causes leukemia. They might think that something they did or did not do caused their illness. To help ease their worries, ask the health care team to discuss what is known about the causes of leukemia with your child.

Prepare your child

Explain procedures before your child has them. Ask a member of your child’s health care team to describe what they will hear, feel, taste, or smell during the test. This can help make it seem less frightening. Your child will also trust you and the hospital team. Be sure to tell them about side effects of the chemotherapy, such as hair loss, weight gain, weight loss, and skin problems.

Last updated: March 6th 2018