Cancer patients: How to help your kids during the holidays

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Christmas_gingerbread house.jpgBy Morgan Henry, Social Work Counselor

The holiday season can bring comfort and joy through family traditions, social celebrations and school events. However, if you're a cancer patient with young kids or teenagers, you may face many changes and challenges during holiday season, including:

  • Limited financial resources: Mounting medical bills, reduced income or changes in work schedule could lead to fewer holiday celebrations or gifts, which kids may eventually notice.
  • Travel plans: Because of your cancer treatment schedule or health situation, long-distance travel to visit family may not be possible.
  • Traditions:  Families may not be able to keep up with all of their typical yearly holiday traditions simply because they have less time, money and energy.
  • School events: If you're coping with a cancer diagnosis, you may not be able to attend your child's holiday school functions as usual. While grandparents or other family members can always fill in, parents not being there could still have an effect on children.
How cancer patients can help their families and kids during the holidays
There are many things you can do to help your children and other family members cope with the changes you're facing while still enjoying the holiday season. Here are just a few strategies.

  • Communicate with children: Children can pick up on a lot of things, especially changes to their schedules or holiday routines. It is important for parents to communicate with their children about these changes in an age-appropriate manner. This will help alleviate feelings of anxiety and uncertainly children may experience.
  • Establish new traditions: These changes may present a good opportunity for families to establish new holiday traditions. Include children in discussions about different ways to celebrate the season together. Making homemade gifts instead of buying items can give your family quality time together while also helping you save money.
  • Simplify: Give yourself a break. It is perfectly fine to scale back on all of the holiday activities during your cancer experience. Explaining to children why and how you will be simplifying during the holiday season can help manage their expectations and also show them how to adapt and cope with other difficult periods during life.
  • Seek social support: If you're facing cancer during the holidays, you may need some extra support from family members and friends. There is no shame in reaching out to ask for help. Children may benefit from extra time spent with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins or their friends. Social support, especially for school events, can help maintain a feeling of holiday cheer for your children.
  • Focus on the gift of presence:  Too often people can get bogged down with the stress of shopping, cooking, hosting, etc. But the holiday season presents ample opportunities to spend time together as family. Truly focusing on just being together and appreciating the presence of family can instantly lift spirits. Low-key activities such as baking, watching movies and playing games can remind your family of the most important component to the holiday season: being together.  
Where can families seek support?
Social work counselors are available to support families throughout the entire cancer experience. Patients may contact the main social work office at 713-792-6195 to be connected to their assigned social work counselor.  

Social Work also facilitates the CLIMB Program, a support group offered to patients with children and teenagers. Interested patients may contact Morgan Henry at 713-792-5495 for more information.

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