School-age children: How should they be involved in my care?

How much your 6- to 12-year-old children should help in taking care of you at home depends on their ages and your relationship with them. School-age children can help, even though they might complain about it.

How they can provide care

Use these guidelines when figuring out how to involve your children in your at-home care:

  • Try to find out how much your child wants to be involved.
  • Some children may find it’s too hard emotionally to care for a parent. If that’s the case, try to find other ways that your children can help at home.
  • Sometimes you may need to have your children’s help. Try to give tasks that they are able to do easily. Let them know how much it means to have their help.
  • Keep in mind that they may complain. They will need regular breaks from your illness, by going to see friends or doing other activities.
  • Find out what tasks are most comfortable for them to do.
  • Tell them how important it is to keep up with their schoolwork and other responsibilities; this is another way that they can help and support you.
  • If possible, don’t ask them to help with your medicines or physical care.
  • If English isn’t your first language, try not to have young children talk about your care with your medical team – either at home, or on the phone. Your doctors, nurses and the home care agency should all have ways to help understand your needs: They could use pre-made written cards in your language, or bring an interpreter.

Common reactions of school-age children:

These reactions are common for school-age children when they have a parent with cancer:

  • Being “grossed out” or embarrassed by changes to their parent’s body, and by the routines and tasks that go along with cancer treatment.
  • Telling you to keep your illness and symptoms private, like wearing a wig instead of going out in public when you’re losing your hair.
  • Acting younger than their age when they’re under too much stress.
  • Demanding more of your care and attention.


American Cancer Society. (2005). Helping children when a family member has

Blum, D. CancerCare Connect. (2005) Helping children when a family member has cancer. Retrieved 6/30/08 from

Harpham, W. (1997). When a parent has cancer: a guide to caring for your children. New York: HarperCollins.

National Cancer Institute (n.d.) When someone in your family has cancer. Retrieved 7/1/08 from