Activities to Help Children Cope When a Family Member Has Cancer

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1 Activities to Help Children Cope When a Family Member Has Cancer Princess Margaret Information for cancer patients and families Read this booklet for ideas about fun activities you can do with children from different age groups. Please visit the UHN Patient Education website for more health information: University Health Network. All rights reserved. This information is to be used for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for non-commercial personal use only. Author: Magic Castle/Social Work Created: 01/2005 Form: D-5074 (12/2013)

2 Here is a list of activities you can do with your children. Beside each activity, it will tell you which ages are best. You will find the activities for younger children first, then activities for older children. At the end are activities for all ages. Playing with play dough (babies to 12 years old) Playing with play dough together is a simple and fun group activity. This is a good activity for babies because they will focus on the play dough and tools, not any tension or worry you are feeling. Adding different kinds of scented herbs or oils to the play dough will make this activity more fun and relaxing. Let the children choose the scents or the tools. Work on the play dough together with your hands, hand over hand or with tools like plastic knives, rolling pins, spoons, cookie cutters, or trays. As you play: make shapes make different objects (animals, people, faces) talk about how it feels, how it smells, and how you feel while you play Exchanging something personal or special (babies to 12 years old) Exchanging something personal or special (like a pillow, a favourite T-shirt, scarf or bracelet) when you are away or unavailable can help children: feel like they are part of what s happening learn to share, negotiate and respond understand that regular routines may change, but you are still thinking about and love them feel like they are supported and accepted Exchanging these items can be very comforting for you both. You can do this with your child before an inpatient stay in the hospital. You could also exchange items if you are having chemotherapy and resting at home a bit more than usual on days after each chemo treatment. Children can keep track of the number of days they spend with their mom s, dad s or grandparent s special item. The development of patient education resources is supported by the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. 2

3 Babies reaction to being away from their mother can be hard to predict. Having a special item with their mom s smell (for example, a pillow, shirt or scarf) will help them feel loved and secure. Sharing messy moments (babies to 12 years old) Children learn a lot through messy play. Young children will get to explore and have fun. Older ones will be creative and enjoy it because they don t have to worry about being neat. They can show initiative (lead the activity or talk about their ideas) and have fun with you at the same time. There are many things you and the children can use in this activity: big construction paper, cardboard box, bubble wrap brushes, spray bottles, hands or feet paints, glitter, food colouring, tie die, spray painting (all toxic free) Children like to participate in messy activities and they will enjoy every minute of it. Babies will explore by making little hand or foot prints. This art work can be kept and dated. 3

4 Flying feelings balloons (18 months to 6 years old) Blow up balloons and use a permanent marker to trace faces on each. Hold your hand over your young child s to help them trace the faces on the balloons. Make sure you choose different expressions such as sad, happy, curious, worried, proud, and surprised. This activity helps children learn different feelings and helps them understand that it s ok to have all of these feelings. This activity can also help you find out what your child is feeling on that day. This can be an indoor or outdoor activity. When you are ready, tie the balloons in a bunch and let them fly up in the sky. You can also tie them to something in your backyard or on your balcony. Reading books (3 to 8 years old) Reading to your children is relaxing, rewarding and a great learning experience. Reading children s books about nature, changes, or illness can help them understand what is happening in their lives. The words and pictures used can help explain things and help them understand. The titles of some good books to read are: A Friend in Hope by Marissa Zammit Rafa the Robot by Alexandra Dellevoet Angels and Monsters by Lisa Murray Once Upon a Hopeful Night by Risa Sacks Yaffe In Mommy s Garden by Neyal Ammary-Risch These kinds of books can help you feel less stress and worry about how to explain what s happening to your child. 4

5 Popping nasty bubbles (3 to 12 years old) Blow bubbles and pretend that they are cancer cells. Let the children pretend to be a chemo shark or a radiation monster. Encourage them to pop the bubbles to kill the cancer cells. This is a fun and playful activity that can help you all feel less stress and worry. Drawing or painting (3 to 12 years old) Children often express themselves more easily by drawing and painting than with words. Give them their own sketch book or journal and lots of pens, markers and crayons. You can make a few suggestions to get them started: Draw yourself. Draw your family. Draw things that you like. Draw different faces including happy, sad, angry or curious. Draw a picture of yourself and what you would like to be when you grow up. Don't try to guess what they drew or painted. Ask your child to tell you about their picture and write down what they say next to it. Use their words. This can be their sketch book and they can always bring it out and continue. Sometimes their drawings will tell you something and sometimes they won't. It s just important to give your child a way to express any fears, dreams and other feelings. Making a Chinese animal sign necklace or key chain (3 to 12 years old) The Chinese calendar has 12 animals that represent each 12 years. With your children, look at the animal signs that belong to the Chinese calendar. Find out which signs you are. You can find the information on a computer or you can buy a calendar. 5

6 Using permanent markers, print the animal signs on buttons, big beads or any cut out circles from a foam sheet (available at dollar stores and craft stores) or a plastic lid. They can be decorated with sparkles, glitters, or stickers. Let them dry overnight. When they are dry, you and your child can string them on fishing line or thread. Let your child decide in what order they want to do it. This activity gives you and your child a chance to work together. You can also ask them what they think about what the Chinese calendar says. Planning a party (3 to 16 years old) Everyone likes to have things to look forward to, especially when life is difficult. If you don't have a birthday coming up, think of another reason to have a party. Some reasons could include: the first day of spring or a another season a sleepover or a pajama party a holiday celebration coming up any other reason you can think of You don t have to invite anyone other than your family members. The important part of this activity is spending time with your children to plan. Have them help you send invitations, decorate, and plan the food and entertainment. Keep it simple so no one gets too tired or excited. Making henna tattoos (3 years old and up) Henna is a dye that comes from a plant. It can be used to make temporary tattoos on hands or other body parts. This is a tradition in some south Asian countries. The art of henna is a good way to spend time together and connect with your children. Find a place that does henna tattoos or learn how to make them yourself. Let your child choose what to paint on your hand. If this is your child s first time making henna, you can guide them. This activity allows you to spend time together while teaching them about a great tradition. 6

7 Making friendship bracelets (4 to 12 years old) Sometimes when there is an illness in the family, children feel different from their friends. Doing activities with their friends can help them be more open and feel more normal about what is happening. You can invite one or more of your children s friends to your home. Have thread and different beads available. Allow the children to make friendship bracelets and trade them. This activity will help your child feel more relaxed and comfortable with their friends at school, daycare, or play program. Making colorful paper rings or chains (5 to 12 years old) For this activity, have your children write powerful feeling words (for example: love, life, hope, together, courage, and fight) on strips of coloured paper. You can add words that express how you are feeling as well. Then glue or staple the ends together to make rings to link together. Have the children decide how they want to connect the rings (for example, by words or by colour). This activity will give you a way to talk to your children about how you are feeling. The younger children will learn new words and feel like a part of what you are going through. You can then decide together where you want to hang the chain. Tossing bean bags (6 to 12 years old) Use already made bean bags. Toss bean bags to each other. As each person throws, say an emotion or a feeling with a loud voice. This game is fun but it will also help all of you let out feelings, emotions and worries by sharing them. Expressing feelings with body movements and language will help you understand some of the feelings your children are holding inside. 7

8 Playing doctor (6 to 12 years old) Children use play as a way of coping with their fears and making sense of what is happening in their lives. Provide your children with doctor's kits, dolls or stuffed animals and real hospital things like bandages, facemasks and plastic syringes. If you have an IV, a catheter or an oxygen mask, ask the nurses if they can let you have some plastic tubing or a plastic face mask that your child can play with. Don't force this kind of play, but make the materials available. Make sure there are blankets, toy beds and other things for taking care of a sick patient. If your child wants you to play too, let them direct the play. Filling out a log book (6 to 12 years old) Start a log book with your child where both of you can express daily happenings and events. Writing or drawing can be healing and a great way to record important events, dates or feelings. Encourage your child to write or draw each day so you can understand what they are thinking and feeling and how they are managing change. You can also write in the log book and let your children read it. This can help both of you to express emotions if you find them difficult to talk about. 8

9 Reading Kemo Shark (6 to 16 years old) For a copy of Kidscope Kemo Shark comic book, please go to the website: After reading the story, let your younger child play with plastic sharks in the bathtub. Spending special time together (all ages) Create special times with your child during your cancer experience. Spend quality time doing things like: watching a movie and talking about it after baking or cooking your favourite things shopping writing or drawing playing games (board games, flying kites, playing Frisbee) taking long walks or other outdoor activities Spending time together gives you a change to talk, have fun and create happy memories. Taking pictures and video recordings (all ages) Take pictures and video recordings of yourself and send them to your children. This will let your children learn about your physical and emotional changes and the different places you ll have to be during treatment. The older children will feel more secure and included in your experience. The younger children will be able to see you and hear your voice. Sending photographs or short videos from your iphone or other electronic device can help you communicate daily events or changes. With your older children or teenagers, you can create a blog or set up a social network account to share events, happenings or changes. They will want to know more specific information about your prognosis and treatments. Making them feel included is important. 9

10 Writing thank you cards (all ages) Help your child to make a list of people who have done nice things for them during the difficult times your family has gone through. Make thank you cards together. Allow the children to write down how they feel about the people who were there for them. Younger children can express their feelings by drawing, tracing or just making a hand print. Talk with your child about things that you can do to help other people in your family or in the community. This gives children an opportunity to recognize and appreciate other people s efforts and support. 10

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