Parents With Cancer Can Help Children Cope

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By Dawn Dorsey, Staff Writer

ClimbGraphic.jpgCancer affects every member of the family. Children whose parents or other relatives have cancer may face emotional upheaval, doubt and anxiety.

At M. D. Anderson, the CLIMB® (Children's Lives Include Moments of Bravery) program helps children identify and express their emotions when a parent has cancer.

Marisa Minor, a social worker in the Department of Social Work and one of the program's facilitators, says children experience stressful situations differently than adults.

Tips help parents communicate
"In most cases, children aren't yet equipped with the coping tools to help them verbalize questions and seek help when they are worried or scared about what is happening to their parent and to their family," she says.

To help cancer patients guide children through the tough times, Minor recommends these tips:
•    Use the three "C's"
     o    It's called Cancer
     o    The patient or child did not Cause the cancer
     o    Children cannot Catch cancer like a cold or flu
•    Be honest but don't overshare; use age-appropriate information
•    Reassure them there's a plan for their welfare and you will keep them informed
•    Check in frequently; they may have questions even if they don't ask
•    Ask the medical team or social worker for advice about talking to your children
•    Look for resources, such as books, to help children cope

Children can develop tools
Minor says learning age-appropriate and healthy ways to cope with a parent's cancer early in the process can prepare children to:

•    Normalize their feelings
•    Communicate their concerns
•    Identify personal strengths

"Working together as a family helps children become better equipped to express and manage their feelings," she says. "They can develop tools to help them cope with other life challenges that may come their way."

Program brings children together

Through guided conversations and art, CLIMB meetings allow children to bond with other children who are having similar experiences. They find ways to cope with and express sadness and anger. A concurrent parent support group also takes place.
CLIMB was developed by The Children's Treehouse Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the emotional support of children whose parents have cancer.

Partial funding support for CLIMB is provided by M. D. Anderson's Volunteer Endowment for Patient Support and the Department of Social Work.For more information about the program, contact Minor at 713-792-6826.

M. D. Anderson resources:
CLIMB Support Program

CLIMB Program Helps Children Whose Relatives Have Cancer (M. D. Anderson News Release)

Additional resources:
Children's Treehouse Foundation

Helping Children When A Family Member Has Cancer: Dealing With A Parent's Terminal Illness (American Cancer Society)

When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens

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