On this track, we will discuss the needs of the child coping with cancer in the family. The three fundamental needs we will discuss are continuous satisfaction of their basic physical and emotional needs, and understanding on their level of what is happening, and reassurance that they will be cared for no matter what happens to you
There is no Way to Protect Children
Cancer has entered your client’s life. He or she may be recovering from a biopsy or surgery, in which case the client may be experiencing pain, grief, fear, or anxiety. Perhaps the client is in the middle of treatment or recovering, in remission or facing recurrence. Regardless of the effect of cancer on your client’s life, he or she may find themselves urged by parental instincts to protect children from the crisis that is cancer. Would you agree that the problem with this approach is that there is no way to protect children from the fact that cancer has entered their lives?
According to Dr. Harpham, it is the experience of oncology therapists that children know something serious is going on even when nobody says anything to them. As a result, research indicates that parents and other adults can help children to adapt by talking openly with them about cancer.
I find that children have three fundamental needs that, if met, enable them to adapt to their world no matter what is happening. Would you agree that understanding these needs may help your client to interact productively with a dependent child?
Three Insights into Meeting the Child's Needs
These three fundamental needs are continuous satisfaction of their basic physical and emotional needs, and understanding on their level of what is happening, and reassurance that they will be cared for no matter what happens to you.
1. Taking Care of Basic Needs
First, taking care of basic physical and emotional needs is a never ending full time job in every home. No matter what is happening with an ill parent, children must have regular meals, hygiene, and transportation to and from school. Clearly, children also need emotional support such as words of comfort. You might find it helpful to suggest to your client that his or her job is to make sure these needs are met, however it is not necessarily for the client with cancer to meet those needs themselves.
2. Understanding on their Level what is Happening
Next, let’s discuss the fundamental need for understanding on their level what is happening. Do you agree that children need to know why daddy is in the hospital, why mommy is losing her hair, or why mommy and daddy are crying, yelling, or not talking? I find that children are constantly exploring their environment. By figuring out how things work, they make their world a bit more predictable and controllable. Knowing what’s going on helps children function and avoid unpleasantness. Clearly, children look to their parents to show them how to tame the fears and anxieties that accompany living with a sick parent.
Finally, let’s discuss the fundamental need children have for reassurance. Throughout both the illness and recovery, I find that children can benefit from reassurance that they will be cared for no matter what happens and that it is OK for them to be worried about themselves. Would you agree that children will deal better with routine stresses and crises when they are confident that they will always have a home, food, shelter and love.
How might your client assure his or her child or children that birthdays, ball games and school parties will always be important and that the client will always make every effort to make them happen? However, when circumstances make this difficult or impossible, your client will need strategies for helping the child deal with the resulting loss. Perhaps he or she may encourage the child to continue to spend time with friends or save for that special toy the child has been eyeing with anticipation.
Think of your client. How might he or she ensure that the child’s three fundamental needs are met?
On this track we have discussed three fundamental needs of children. .
On the next track we will discuss breaking the news.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Dunn, M. J., Rodriguez, E. M., Barnwell, A. S., Grossenbacher, J. C., Vannatta, K., Gerhardt, C. A., & Compas, B. E. (2012). Posttraumatic stress symptoms in parents of children with cancer within six months of diagnosis. Health Psychology, 31(2), 176–185.
Oberoi, A. R., Cardona, N. D., Davis, K. A., Pariseau, E. M., Berk, D., Muriel, A. C., & Long, K. A. (2020). Parent decision-making about support for siblings of children with cancer: Sociodemographic influences. Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology, 8(2), 115–125.
Oberoi, A. R., Towry, L., Eilenberg, J. S., Lun, P., Lerro, G., Alderfer, M. A., & Long, K. A. (2019).
Improving support to siblings of children with cancer through a community-academic partnership. Clinical Practice in Pediatric Psychology, 7
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 1
What are three fundamental needs of children? To select and enter your answer go to