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Caring for Kids and Families

Julia smiles as she holds a cameraThe following list from A LION IN THE HOUSE Director Julia Reichert––whose own daughter is a pediatric cancer survivor––offers indispensable advice for anyone who knows an individual or a family coping with such a catastrophic medical event. From the smallest gesture to three-course meals, here are ten things you can do to help ease the burden for a child or family coping with cancer:

1.
Help with house chores.
Offer to rake the family’s leaves, weed their garden, help them take their car to the shop, their dog to the vet or pick up groceries.
2.
Volunteer to cook a meal.
Better yet, agree to cook a meal every Monday, say.  Find out what the patient really wants to eat. It might be chicken soup, sherbet, ice cream, plain pasta with butter, mashed potatoes, grits.  And don’t forget, the rest of the family needs to eat, too. So if you can cook for the whole family, that’s great.
3.
Ideas for gifts:
Extra pairs of soft jammies. Flannel is good for air-conditioned hospitals. Button-up fronts and low pockets make it easier to deal with IV lines and exams. Silk flowers (real ones are often prohibited). A special soft blanket. A special, soft, squishy pillow. Or, for a child, a pillow or pillowcase with an age-appropriate character. Special, easy-to-get-on slippers for cold hospital floors. Cards are great, funny cards especially. Pictures of things the patient loves. A book of jokes or cartoons.
4.
For teachers:
Getting notes or drawings from classmates and students means a lot. Photos and drawings on a hospital wall really warm up a room. Keep in mind that cancer treatment goes on for months, and often more than one year… so send another card, or another batch of drawings. This can provide a real lesson in compassion to a classroom.

Teachers of middle and high school students can initiate community service projects around childhood cancer. Many good ideas and real-world connections can be found at mylion.org.
5.
Caregivers need a break!
Offer to sit with a child and read, or watch a movie, or just sit quietly while they sleep. In hospitals and at home, there’s a lot of downtime.
6.
Siblings need attention, too.
When the sick child is confined to home, offer to take the others on a walk, or window-shopping or to the movies. Find out what the sibs want to do. Don’t pry with questions about the family, but be ready to listen and reassure.
7.
Appoint a spokesperson.
It’s a smart thing for a family to assign a person, who’s not the patient's parent or direct caregiver, to give out information and be the go-to person for information and updates. 
8.
Listen.
Don’t wear the parents out with questions. Don’t bring up hard things unless they want to go there. For some, talking is helpful––for others, it’s not. Listen. Don’t drain their energy more by having them tell the same stories and updates again and again.
9.
Stay in touch.
Above all, don’t avoid them! Do something. If you’re nervous about going to visit, send a card. If you want to help and don’t know what to do, ask someone close to the family.
10.
Be sensitive.
If a parent has lost a child, don’t ever say, “Well, she’s in a better place.” As many parents have told us, what better place is there for a child than with her family? Parents told us, “Don’t ever say to me, ‘I know how you feel.’ Unless you have lost a child, you don’t know how any of us feel.”

Find out how important it is for caregivers to take of themselves »

Get helpful tips for caregivers »

Learn about survivorship challenges and resources »

Teens can do community service at mylion.org »

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A backyard: rake, wheelbarrow and fall leaves surround a potted flowering plant - Hands stir a pot on the stove, surrounded by dried beans and vegetables - Children sit at a long table drawing, crayons scattered about