Like toddlers, preschoolers thrive on consistency. So when routines change and they’re introduced to new caregivers, it impacts their sense of security and control. Their behaviour may regress to include bedwetting, thumb sucking or clinginess. They may also act out – it’s often the only way they can process their anger, fear and loss of control. They may have nightmares or night terrors.
Punishing that behaviour, including anger, can have unintended consequences: If a child is made to feel they’re being “bad” by bothering their mother or asking too many questions, they can develop a sense of guilt. Or, more significantly, they may end up practicing magical thinking (a significant part of development for this age group) and believe their mother’s illness is their fault, a punishment for their behaviour, or that they can cure it by being “good.” They have a limited understanding of illness, and with age-appropriate explanation, they can begin to develop an understanding of what cancer is.
How to help:
- Encourage consistency with caregivers, with daily routines, and with explanations of what’s going on. Children may ask the same questions over and over – it’s their way of learning and exploring, so be patient and provide simple, honest, age-appropriate information.
- Let them express their emotions through conversations or play to clarify their understanding. Involve children in their mother’s care – if they can help by bringing her a glass of juice or telling her a story while she rests, it will make them feel involved and helpful.