Coping strategies by age

Often children will struggle to focus on everyday life. It is common for children of all ages to feel alone at times because they have spent long periods of time in hospital and have not been able to go to school or see their friends.

They might also feel that their friends don’t understand because they have not experienced cancer. Encourage your child to stay connected with friends and family either online (texts, calls, video calls), or in person (if appropriate).

Infant (birth - 12 months)

Infants rely on their parents to meet their needs. They have no concept of cancer. They respond to the people and environment around them. 

Separation from familiar people 

  • leave a shirt with your smell on it if you need to be away from your infant
  • rock or hold your infant when you are in the hospital
  • keep a familiar blanket and toy in the cot
  • talk and play with them like how you would at home 

Sense of safety 

  • wake your baby before a painful procedure 
  • develop a familiar routine for feeding, bed and bath time. 

Toddler (12 months - 3 years)

Toddlers are beginning to want to do more on their own to feel a sense of control. They show how they feel in their actions because they may not able to do so through words. 

Fear of separation 

  • be with your toddler as much as possible
  • if you need to leave, let them know you are going and when you are coming back. 

Fear of strangers 

  • provide security objects like a blanket or stuffed animal. 

Loss of control 

  • let your toddler make choices whenever possible e.g. 'apple juice or orange juice?'
  • do not offer a choice if no choice exists e.g. 'are you ready for your medicine?'
  • give them a job to do e.g. hold this bandaid. 

Loss of routine

  • try to keep your eating/bathing/sleeping routine 
  • let your toddler play with their favourite toys.

Behaviour changes 

  • give your toddler safe ways to express anger and other feelings (Play-Doh, painting, building blocks)
  • reassure them that it's okay if they are feeling mad or sad
  • set boundaries for leniency when needed.

Fear of treatment

  • assure your toddler that he/she did nothing wrong.

Medicines, tests, procedures

  • keep blanket, dummy, favourite toys nearby
  • use simple ways tell them what is going to happen before the treatment or procedure.

Preschooler (3-5 years)

Preschoolers are also trying to do things on their own. They are learning more words to tell you what they think and feel. 

Understandings words 

  • they may think a CAT scan has something to do with a cat
  • use simple words, pictures or books to explain things to your preschooler. 

Loss of control 

  • let your toddler make choices whenever possible e.g. 'apple juice or orange juice?'
  • do not offer a choice if no choice exists e.g. 'are you ready for your medicine?'
  • give them a job to do e.g. hold this bandaid. 

Loss of routine

  • praise your child for doing things independently like eating, getting dressed, brushing teeth. 

Behaviour changes 

  • give your preschooler time to adjust to new changes
  • use play to help express feelings. 

Fear of treatment

  • familiarise your child by letting them play with doctor kits and safe medical supplies like a blood pressure cuff. 

School age (6-12 years)

This age group has a better understanding of how their bodies work. Friends are becoming important and they have more words to describe their bodies, thoughts and feelings.

Loss of control 

  • offer choice whenever it is possible
  • allow them to try new things 
  • maintain school work and activities. 

Being away from school friends

  • write letters, call or Facetime friends 
  • allow visits if your child is well enough. 

Teenagers (13-18 years)

Teenagers are beginning to see themselves as individuals in the world. Illness and treatment makes them feel different at a time when they are trying to 'fit in'.

Loss of independence

  • allow your teenager to be active in social and school activities 
  • involve them in their treatment plan with the medical team
  • encourage self care. 

Body image and self esteem 

  • give them a chance to talk about physical and emotional changes
  • reassure them about their feelings 
  • point out things that your teenager does well
  • encourage them to do things that will make him/her feel good about themselves. 

Loss of privacy

  • respect that teenagers may need to some things privately, offer them private time for space, phone calls etc.

Behaviour changes

  • provide safe ways to express feelings, especially anger e.g. physical activity, talking, writing
  • reassure them that everything they are feeling is okay and normal e.g. fear, sadness.

Separation from peers 

  • encourage time with peers
  • allow friends to visit or call the hospital or home.

Concern for the future 

  • answer questions honestly
  • assist them in future plans e.g. school, fertility preservation.
Last updated Wednesday 8th November 2023