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Section 4
Children Coping with Parental Cancer

CEU Question 4 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Cancer
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track we discussed sorting priorities.  An effective technique for sorting out priorities is the creating an energy bank account technique. 

On this track we will discuss dealing with the child’s grief.  Regarding child grief, reestablishing security is one way to help children cope effectively.  Four methods for reestablishing security are actively manage the level of change in the child’s life, actively increase the level of predictability in the child’s life, deal with any of the child’s health concerns, and increase the child’s feelings of control. 

Four Methods for Reestablishing Security
As I list these four methods for reestablishing security, evaluate the parent of child who is grieving over a recent diagnosis of cancer or perhaps side effects of treatment to find out if he or she could benefit from trying any of these four methods.

Method #1  Actively manage the level of change in the child’s life. How might your client managed change in his or her child’s life?  Could maintaining routines, minimizing change and communicating unavoidable change be effective?  Carol, age 31, was the single mother of Stacy, age 12.  Carol stated, "Whenever something changes in my prognosis or treatment, I’ll try to give Stacy as much notice as possible.  I’ll also involve Stacy in making decisions regarding those changes if possible."  Carol also maintained the same rules of discipline and the same expectations which were present before she was diagnosed with cancer.  Do you agree that by maintaining discipline levels parents can help children return to a normal state?

Method #2 Actively increase the level of predictability in the child’s life.  Because Stacy felt insecure, Carol tried to restore her sense of security by increasing the level of predictability in Stacy’s life.  Carol stated, "First, I’ll make sure Stacy knows where I am and how to reach me.  Second, I’ll do the things I say I’m going to do.  Third, I can help Stacy anticipate upcoming events and help her understand how these things might make her feel."   

Method #3  Dealing with any of the child’s health concerns. Stacy didn’t express any health concerns, but I have found this step to be applicable in other cases.  About 20 percent of children I have treated who are grieving cancer begin to worry they may die.  60 percent worry that their parents may die.  Clearly by addressing the child’s health concerns, parents can help reestablish a sense of security.

Method #4 Increase the child’s feelings of control. Stacy felt out of control when the death of her father and brother destroyed her assumptions regarding life. To help her regain a feeling of control, Carol validated Stacy’s experiences.  Instead of using unsupportive phrases like, "It’s silly to feel that way" or "You can’t really believe that," Carol acknowledged Stacy’s right to her feelings.  Think of your Stacy.  Could her sense of security be restored by a combination of these methods?

Technique: Worry About Yourself
Another way Carol reestablished a sense of security for Stacy, was with the "Worry About Yourself" technique.  As you are aware, anxiety is contagious, especially for children.  I have found that because children mirror their parent’s level of comfort relating to security,  the "Worry About Yourself" technique can be a helpful way for parents to reestablish a sense of security.  The "Worry About Yourself" technique is very simple.  Parents simply project a comfortable feeling that everything is going to be fine. 

Because Carol was also grieving her diagnosis of cancer, she asked, "How am I supposed to be calm when my whole world has been blown up, too?"  Here are a few of the exercises Carol discovered to help her reestablish security.  As you listen to these parent’s suggestions, decide if a client you are currently treating may benefit from hearing these suggestions and listenting to this track in a session.
3 Exercises Carol Used to Reestablish Security
1. In her own words, Carol stated,   "I’ve started running again.  It relaxes me in two ways.  First, I say to myself, ‘If I can make it up this damn hill, I can do anything.’  And second, after a couple miles, I’m too tired to worry." 

2. Next, Carol stated,   "I didn’t set out to do this, but I wound up with a ‘worry partner’.  I met this other woman who had beaten cancer a few years ago.  She listens to all my worries and makes me feel normal ‘cuz she worried about the same things.  Then she helps me think up answers to my problems."

3. Carol also stated,  "Every morning when I have my coffee, I think about the hardest times in my life and how now I’m better prepared to deal than I was ten years ago.  I think about all the ways this could have been worse.  That helps."  Think of your Carol.  Could she or he help her or his child feel a stronger sense of security by using the "Worry About Yourself" technique? 

On this track we discussed dealing with child grief.  Regarding child grief, reestablishing security is one way to help children cope effectively.  Four methods for reestablishing security are actively manage the level of change in the child’s life, actively increase the level of predictability in the child’s life, deal with any of the child’s health concerns, and increase the child’s feelings of control. 

On the next track we will discuss therapeutic tools.  Two effective therapeutic tools for helping children get in touch with their feelings are therapeutic play and feelings football. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Captari, L. E., Riggs, S. A., & Stephen, K. (2021). Attachment processes following traumatic loss: A mediation model examining identity distress, shattered assumptions, prolonged grief, and posttraumatic growth. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 13(1), 94–103.

Compas, B. E., Desjardins, L., Vannatta, K., Young-Saleme, T., Rodriguez, E. M., Dunn, M., Bemis, H., Snyder, S., & Gerhardt, C. A. (2014). Children and adolescents coping with cancer: Self- and parent reports of coping and anxiety/depression. Health Psychology, 33(8), 853–861.

Flahault, C., & Sultan, S. (2010). On being a child of an ill parent: A Rorschach investigation of adaptation to parental cancer compared to other illnesses. Rorschachiana, 31(1), 43–69.

Kissil, K., Niño, A., Jacobs, S., Davey, M., & Tubbs, C. Y. (2010). “It has been a good growing experience for me”: Growth experiences among African American youth coping with parental cancer. Families, Systems, & Health, 28(3), 274–289. 

Pariseau, E. M., Chevalier, L., Muriel, A. C., & Long, K. A. (2019). Parental awareness of sibling adjustment: Perspectives of parents and siblings of children with cancer. Journal of Family Psychology.

Sandler, I., Gunn, H., Mazza, G., Tein, J.-Y., Wolchik, S., Kim, H., Ayers, T., & Porter, M. (2018). Three perspectives on mental health problems of young adults and their parents at a 15-year follow-up of the family bereavement program. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 86(10), 845–855.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 4
What are four methods for reestablishing security? To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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