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Q. My kids seem to be acting out more since I was diagnosed with cancer last year. I'm looking for ways to address that while still being sensitive to what they are going through. I know it's a lot.


Acting out is a common response that children have when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. Children will often act out in hopes to regain attention that they might feel is they are now lacking. Although it might seem appropriate to let their misbehavior slide due to the difficult circumstances, it is extremely important to maintain discipline.

Maintaining discipline reassures the child that the parent is still in control, despite being ill. A lack of discipline can actually lead the child to believe that something has gone wrong. It is best to enforce the same rules and consequences that were used prior to the diagnosis. In order to ensure stability, remain consistent when it comes to rewarding good behavior and following through with the consequences. Most importantly, communicate your love, acceptance and understanding of your children while simultaneously implementing the rules and letting them know that misbehavior is not tolerated. It can be helpful to manage their expectations by letting them know that there might be changes in your role and ability to participate in all of the things that you had prior to being diagnosed.

More information can be found in Cancer in the Family: Helping Children Cope with a Parent’s Illness, by Sue P. Heiny, Joan F. Hermann and Joy L. Fincannon or How to Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness by Kathleen McCue.

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