Young children: Should they be involved with my care?

Young children like to help their parents. When it comes to caring for you at home, though, how much should children under the age of 6 be expected to help? The answer depends on the ages of your children, and your relationship with them. Keep in mind that young children have short attention spans. Any tasks given to them should be easy to handle.

Ways to involve young children

Here are some tips for including children under the age of six in your care:

  • Some children may be too upset or overwhelmed to help care for a parent – but they may not even understand why they feel this way. Try to find out how much your child wants to be involved in your care. Watch for clues in how your child acts.
  • Give your children tasks that are easy and safe for them to do alone. You might ask them to let the dog out, bring you something to read, or help to keep water at your side. Let them know how much this means to you.
  • Your children may complain at times. Make sure that they have regular breaks from your illness: Give them chances to see their friends and to do other activities.
  • If possible, don’t ask children to give medicine to you, or to help with your physical care.
  • If English isn’t your first language, someone else may have to translate between you and your doctors. It’s not a good idea for a family member, though – especially a young child – to be an interpreter. The law says that hospitals have to offer interpreters for people who want to hear their medical information in a language besides English. Don’t be afraid to ask for an interpreter if you need one. Your home care agency can also help with your needs by using special cards that have been written in your language.

Common reactions

Young children don’t have the attention span, strength, or skill to care for you like an older family member might. Here are some problems that might happen:

  • Young children may think they can do more than they actually can, just because they want to be close to you while you’re sick.
  • Young children may think that they’re doing a lot to help you, but could get upset or frustrated if they don’t see that you’re getting any better.


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