Behavior Management Tools
Kids Can Cope - For Parents
A diagnosis of cancer in the family almost always raises the level of tension in a household over time. Both kids and adults will start to show signs of stress as the ill parent struggles through rigorous treatment regimes.
Kids may start to misbehave in ways that are new as uncertain situations wear on. The general parenting literature has a lot to offer parents struggling with cancer related family stress.
Active Parenting, by Michael Popkin, has a simple way of describing the four immediate goals of all our children's behavior:
There are both good and bad ways kids pursue these goals and it can be helpful to identify for yourself what goal your child is pursuing with a particular misbehavior and direct him or her toward a more positive way of obtaining it.
Simply put, kids just want contact with us - touch, communication, attention and recognition. Cancer will naturally pull your attention away and kids may misbehave simply to get you attention back. Try to develop new routines that account for both the demands of treatment and simple contact time.
Everyone wants to get their way. Cancer takes away your control as a adult, in some respect, and the changes in family routines take control of the environment away from your kids. Things are not the same as they used to be. Kids may even worry that they aren't in control over whether or not you'll be there for them in the future. Their need to regain power can be strong and this can come out as rebellion. Rework this need by looking for ways to help your child be more independent. Give age-appropriate responsibilities and praise success. Greater independence means greater power and control.
Human beings have an instinctive drive to fight attack and protect our survival. Kids (and adults too) can react to cancer as an attack. Anger is a very common emotion in this situation. Anger acted upon can look like an attack and kids can appear angry and spiteful as they lash out at you (and the cancer). React to these attacks calmly, lovingly, but firmly and recognize the fear that they mask. After the emotion of a temper tantrum is over, your child may be able to tell you what's really upsetting them if you ask them to describe what they're thinking about and feeling.
Everyone in the family needs a break from cancer. Kids will often tell me that they go to their rooms, or to school for that matter, to get away. Distracting yourself from stress is a healthy coping tool. Adults use it all the time. However, there's a fine line between "alone time" and self-isolating. If your child is constantly wanting to self-isolate, consider the possibility that he or she might be depressed about your cancer and seek family counseling to air fears and find new coping tools.