Iris Mini: Parenting Through Cancer Ages 6-12

Cancer is a diagnosis that impacts not only the patient but the entire family. Parenting during a cancer diagnosis can be physically and emotionally draining. You may find it challenging to focus on treatment while meeting the needs of children.

School age children (6-12) can benefit from direct and clear communication about cancer and the changes it may bring to a family. Each family copes with a diagnosis differently, and you are the expert on your child(ren). However, there are guiding principles from child development experts’ experience caring for families when a parent has cancer.

The chart below may help provide ways to support your child(ren).

Development & Understanding of Cancer

Child’s Response/ Behaviors

Parenting Tips

- Ability to understand more complex medical details of diagnosis

- May be curious and ask good questions

- Consider age-appropriate educational tools such as games, art activities, etc.

- May feel they have caused the diagnosis or that they may get cancer too

- May have difficulty separating or distancing themselves from the ill parent

- Offer ways for the child to be actively involved

- Understands mortality as it relates to medical diagnoses

- May experience anxiety or guilt

- Consider creative ways for your child to express emotions (art, writing, etc.)

- May have previous knowledge of cancer from friend's experiences, television, or the internet, and may compare it with their previous experience

- May revert to previous developmental stages (bed wetting, thumb sucking)

- Take time to listen to their concerns and let them know you care about their feelings

- May be developing abstract thinking skills, especially in the later school ages

- May express distress as physical symptoms (headaches, stomach pains, poor concentration, or daydreaming)

- Reassure child they did not cause the illness and they cannot catch it


- May have behavioral challenges at school

- Communicate with your child often, and help prepare them for schedule changes


- May experience irritability, sadness, crying, the desire to be alone, or seem withdrawn

- Model healthy coping and express emotions


- May have the ability to sense parent’s emotions and want to provide support

- Attempt to continue child’s activities, schedule, and interactions with friends



- Share how treatment may impact the child directly, assure them their needs will be taken care of



- Caution children about making assumptions that all parents with cancer have the same outcome



- Be prepared to address fear of death



- Consider outside support if your child is experiencing emotional or physical changes; if it is prolonged you may consider additional support

Your Iris mental health therapist is available for specific needs, parenting questions, or support for you and your family.