Sharing experiences with your children

Spending quality time with your children is important. But treatment, hospital stays or side effects can make this more difficult. There are simple ways to share positive experiences with your children, even if you’re busy or recovering from treatment.

If you need to stay in hospital, find ways to keep in touch. Arrange a regular time to call home, give them a photo to keep, or send a card, letter or email. Younger children may enjoy being read a story over the phone.

Prepare your children for things they will see while visiting hospital, like tubes or medical devices. If teenagers want to join you in appointments, it may be helpful to let them. Understanding how the treatment process works can be reassuring.

Family activities at home don’t have to be expensive. Just spending time with your children will be appreciated. Watching TV and playing cards or board games can be good options if you don’t have much energy. Ask your children to show you what they’ve been doing at school or go out for a short walk. Drawing pictures or writing stories about family life may help younger children express their feelings.

Spending time together

You may:

  • be having treatment as an outpatient
  • need short stays in hospital
  • be at home coping with side effects or symptoms.

All this can disrupt family life and make it difficult to have enough quality time with your children.


In hospital

You may be worried that seeing you in hospital will be too stressful for your children, but being separated from you may cause them more anxiety. Ask your children if they’d like to visit you and go with what they want.

At first it may be easier for them to see you in a visitor’s/day room, or there may be a canteen or café you can take them to.

You’ll need to be aware of what your child may see in hospital, especially if there are very unwell people being cared for nearby. For younger children, keep visits fairly brief (up to 15 minutes) and remember that older children may want some time alone with you.

Before they visit

Here are some other ideas for how you can best prepare your children for a hospital visit:

  • Make sure they’re prepared for what they’re likely to see and explain things to them. For example, tell them what a drip is, what it looks like and what it’s for.
  • Tell them about the different people who are there to help you. Show them things like the call button, so they feel more secure about you being looked after.
  • Encourage older children and teenagers to take along a book, handheld games console or tablet computer. Encourage younger children to take a toy or colouring book.
  • Make sure you’ve got snacks and things you can do together, such as a pack of cards or a book of word games.
  • If they’re overwhelmed or tired, ask the adult who’s with them to take them home.

Keeping in touch

Keeping in touch with your children while you’re in hospital is also important:

  • Have a regular time to call home or when they can call or text you.
  • Make sure they have a photo of you while you’re away.
  • Leave notes or a small gift for them to find when you’re in hospital.
  • If you have internet access in hospital, send them an email or speak with them over an online video chat service such as Skype.
  • Leave them a voicemail, or send a card or letter.
  • Set up a website or blog that you can use to keep them updated.
  • If they’re younger, read a story with them over the phone or ask them to send you a drawing they’ve done.

Teenagers may want to come along to treatment sessions. You should encourage them to do this if they want to. It can help them understand the treatment process and ask any questions they have. It may be reassuring for them to have a better idea of how your treatment works.


At home

Here are some ideas for things you can do together when you want to spend time with your children, even if you don’t have much energy.

  • Watch TV or DVDs together.
  • Play cards, board games or computer games.
  • Listen to music together.
  • Look through family photos and create a photo album together.
  • Allow them to help out by bringing you a drink or a book, or by tidying up.
  • On days when you’re feeling better, save energy for the things you enjoy doing as a family. It doesn’t have to be expensive or out of the ordinary. Your children will appreciate it that you’re spending time with them.
  • Getting out for some fresh air can be good for everyone. Exercise, even short walks in the park, can help increase your energy levels and reduce stress. It’s great for your children and also helps them let off steam.
  • Set aside some time for the children to show you what they’ve been doing at school or other activities they’ve been involved in.

These tips may be useful if your children are younger:

  • Use art materials and things like Play-Doh® together. Drawing pictures about family life can help children express their feelings.
  • Read and write stories together. Writing a story about you becoming ill can help your children express their feelings, and may reveal any misunderstandings they have.


Back to Talking to children

Advice on talking to children about cancer

What children need to know about your cancer and how they will react will depend on their age.

Explaining treatments

Explaining your treatment to your children will help them know what to expect.

Tips for coping with day-to-day life

Life can be busy when you’re living with cancer. There are ways to help you and your family cope.