Family dynamics change when someone in your home has cancer. Children often don’t know how to talk about their feelings so they act out.

Common and normal responses can include:

  • Moody, irritable and demanding behavior
  • Anxiety about leaving home
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Acting ‘babyish’ or using baby language
  • Headaches, stomachaches, bedwetting
  • Trouble sleeping and/or bad dreams
  • Performing poorly in school
  • Difficulty focussing
  • Children express feelings by ‘acting out.’ At the root of these challenging behaviors is an emotion. Just as a puppy doesn’t purposely provoke you by chewing up the sofa, your child’s behavior comes as a natural expression of their state of mind.

    It’s easy to bark at them: “Stop it!” “Not again!” It’s much harder to understand them. Remember, children are mirrors. When you bark, they bark and everyone is chasing tail.

    Your child is probably feeling worried, scared, frustrated, confused, and/or sad. They want to be in control of their behaviors but these feelings uproot the status quo. M.C. Plays Hide & Seek is a book you can read together to address the many feelings a child may experience and how to cope with those emotions.

    Acting out is a way to gain some control over their lives. They can’t control how home life has changed due to cancer, but there are ways to help them cope with the changes.

    How to respond to acting-out:

  • Identify an emotion they feel. ‘How are you feeling now?’ If they can’t articulate the feeling, suggest a few possibilities.
  • Validate the feeling by saying, ‘I can understand how you would feel this way.’
  • Ask. ‘Does this have something to do with me having cancer?’
  • Be honest and positive. “I’m trying my best to get better. The treatment is making it hard for me to do what I used to do. The more I rest, the faster I will recover.”
  • Suggest you will try to do something special together and you hope they will try to control the undesirable behavior.
  • Reward positive behavior.
  • If your child is afraid of monsters, you might walk into every closet corner with a flashlight to show them there are no monsters. If your child is afraid of you being sick, and possibly dying, shine a light on all the positive and beautiful parts of your life that exist even though you are dealing with cancer.

    Listen to professional storyteller Eva Grayzel read M.C. Plays Hide & Seek  to your child in the Read2Me series. (9-minutes)

    What is your experience with a child’s difficult behavior and how you cope? Please share your comments below and let’s start a meaningful conversation.

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