How Childhood Cancer Affects Social and Emotional Development

Childhood cancer is as much a psychological battle as it is a physical one. Pain, hair loss and school interruptions are just a handful of the challenging experiences children may face during their cancer treatment. These traumas often cause short- and long-term social and emotional problems that can affect a child’s long-term behavioral outcomes after recovery.

Emotional Challenges

Nearly all people who survive cancer experience psychological and emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, sadness and fatigue. Nearly 70 percent of cancer survivors experience depression. Many children with cancer and childhood cancer survivors experience withdrawn behavior, chronic stress, relationship problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even after surviving cancer, many people fear that their disease will come back. Milestone events in a child’s cancer journey, such as the anniversary of their diagnosis, can trigger negative feelings. Looking ahead, children may experience anxiety about the future of their health, career and relationships.

Academic setbacks

Chronic absenteeism is a common problem in children undergoing cancer treatment. It is estimated that childhood leukemia symptoms cause children to miss up to 20 weeks of school each year. Children with cancer may not be able to attend school because they face hospitalization, cancer symptoms, treatment side effects, emotional difficulties, or an increased risk of infection from their peers.

However, school is more than a place for academic learning – it also helps children develop communication and social skills. Connecting with peers in the classroom helps children learn who they are and gain a greater sense of independence. Interruptions in education can seriously impair a child’s emotional, social, and academic development by contributing to feelings of apathy and depression.

Supporting social and emotional development

Parents, caregivers, teachers and other adults can help support better social and emotional adjustment and maturity in children with cancer.

Stick to a normal routine

School and extracurricular activities can help some children feel a sense of normalcy and purpose. Regular school attendance creates structure and provides invaluable opportunities for children to reconnect with friends. Whether children attend school sporadically or consistently during treatment, they benefit from returning to school as soon as possible.

Types of psychological support

Children who receive significant support from family, classmates, teachers and doctors often achieve better psychological outcomes down the road. During cancer treatment and beyond, children can participate in support groups and counseling to manage the emotional consequences of cancer and improve their social maturity and emotional regulation.

Family therapy can help address emotional and behavioral problems that can occur in siblings. Family therapy can also help parents struggling with the weight of caring for a child with cancer. Therapeutic approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach effective coping strategies for emotional and behavioral coping.

Parents and guardians often have to check in with their child. Intervention at the first signs of emotional distress or symptoms of post-traumatic stress can promote faster recovery for both child and family.

(The journalists of Devdiscourse were not involved in the production of this article. The facts and opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse claims no responsibility for this.)

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