Childhood Cancer

Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Chapter 17: Communication and Behavior

When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments: tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become.

— Louis Pasteur

UNDER THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES, child rearing is a daunting task. When parenting is complicated by an overwhelming crisis such as cancer, communication within the family may suffer, and both children and parents may have difficulty adjusting to the new stressors in their lives.

Prior to a cancer diagnosis, children usually know the family rules and the consequences for breaking them. After diagnosis, normal family life is disrupted, and all sorts of confusing and distressing feelings and behaviors may appear. When people are under great stress, they often behave in ways they would not under normal circumstances. In response, parenting styles may need to change to the frequently shifting needs and behaviors of the ill child and affected siblings.

This chapter covers feelings that many children have about their disease and some emotional and behavioral changes that may arise in both children and parents. Suggestions for maintaining effective communication and appropriate behavior within the family are also offered. The stories included describe what many parents experienced and how they coped with their and their ill child’s powerful, and sometimes overwhelming, emotions. For stories about the emotions of siblings, please see Chapter 15, Siblings.