The global spread of COVID-19 has led to an increase in health and hygiene practices to reduce the risk of transmission. Children with cancer who have actively or recently received treatment have weakened immune systems that can increase the likelihood of contracting infections and developing associated health complications. To ensure families continue to create a safe home environment, here are a few things to consider:
It is important not to overwhelm your child with too much information. Providing the child with opportunities to ask questions can serve as an indicator as to how much information to provide. You may not have all the answers, and that is okay!
Keep it simple. Address misinformation. Redirect any unjust blaming directed towards specific racial groups that may promote prejudice.
During this time, your child may feel a diminished sense of control over himself and the world around him. It would be important to focus on empowering your child by reminding him what he can do, like successfully maintaining good personal hygiene.
Although your child may already be placed in a homebound program or has had prior experience with virtual instruction during treatment, the situation may feel different as most of the family may also be home during the quarantine. This could be a big adjustment and it is important to have a plan in place.
In order to attempt to reduce the degree of change in your child’s life, it is helpful to maintain the same structure of a typical day as much as possible.
Routines may include a set time to wake up and go to sleep, as well as set times for specific activities throughout the day (e.g., exercise, socializing virtually with friends, screen time, etc.
Things to consider for children with cancer during quarantine
Children who have had chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be at increased risk for difficulties with processing speed, working memory, and executive functioning skills including planning, organization, flexibility, and behavior management. Here are some things to consider if your child has difficulties in these areas:
Use visual reminders or a list of steps to stay on track with completing daily routines (e.g., morning wake up routine)
Pairing visual and verbal cues may be especially helpful. For example, use a visual cue, such as a picture of a toothbrush in the bathroom, and a verbal reminder by asking him or her to go brush their teeth. Within the teaching-learning environment, using both hands-on instruction and verbally describing an academic concept can help.
Help your child come up with a plan to tackle big projects
Develop a plan with your child on how to approach a task and check in at each step. If the plan needs to be adjusted, brainstorm ideas on how to solve the issue. This will address both planning skills and how to be flexible when confronted with an issue. Things do not always go according to plan, and that is okay!
Practicing planning and organization skills can be fun! Find a large puzzle to complete with your family and have your child assign how to approach the puzzle (e.g., mom finds all the pieces that look like x,y,z). If the child needs help making a plan, give suggestions.
- Break information down into smaller parts - For example, if you want your child to set the dinner table, ask him or her to complete each step separately.
- Allow extra time - Your child may complete tasks at a slower pace, and that is okay! Slow and steady wins the race. Your child may benefit from reducing the amount of work to complete (e.g., only odd numbers). Check in with your child’s teacher on possibly adjusting the workload so that it is manageable.
When children are confronted with a stressful situation or big changes, they may not have the emotional vocabulary or insight to communicate and process their feelings. Thus, big feelings may emerge in the form of irritability, rigidity, and even tantrums. Children diagnosed with cancer may get frustrated more easily or have mood swings due to side effects of the treatment or emerging effects of past treatments. Here are some helpful suggestions on how to address the emotional health of your child during COVID-19 pandemic:
Set aside a special time allowing your child to choose and lead one-on-one activities with you or another caregiver. It is important that the child is aware that this is a special time with you and that he or she can choose the activity.
With older children and teenagers, the special time may consist of arts & crafts or listening to music. What is important is that your child chooses the activity, and you are connecting and sharing time with him or her. During the special time, your child may share feelings or worries, especially since he or she may be missing important milestones (e.g., graduation, school dances, travel plans). Listen to the child’s worries and validate them. They are not looking for reassurance or solutions, but rather someone who can hear their frustration and validate it!
Make sure your glass is full
In order to support a well-regulated and resourced child, parents should also be well regulated and resourced. Self-care is critical and it is important for you to make time for yourself and do something you enjoy or that brings you peace.
Modeling healthy emotion regulation
Children are always observing us and trying to find guidance, even when we are not looking! Remaining calm and demonstrating healthy ways to cope is one of the most effective ways to ensure your child learns how to cope with his or her feelings.