At this age, children can understand the difference between being sick with a cold and having a more serious illness such as cancer. However, they may not have all the information (e.g. they may think cancer is contagious). They have an increased ability to think logically and problem-solve, but magical thinking is still prevalent.
Not being able to maintain their normal activities (seeing their friends or participating in extra-curricular activities) can lead to anger. Children may show their fear and sadness as anger, or hide their anger because they think they shouldn’t be feeling it, which leads to guilt. Regression (bedwetting, etc.) is also a common reaction to change. This may manifest as night terrors and separation anxiety such as refusing to go to school.
How to help:
- Encourage families to keep things as “normal” as possible. If they can, parents should try to maintain regular routines and encourage social time with friends. Provide honest, age-appropriate information and talk with their children about physical changes such as hair loss.
- Be open to questions and be patient with anger. Encourage adults to talk about their own feelings – it lets children know they are normal and it’s okay to have feelings. Involve the children in care whenever it’s appropriate – they can help mom by bringing her something to eat, keeping her company, etc.