COPING WITH SIGNIFICANT ILLNESS
Supporting Children Experiencing Significant Illness of a Family Member
We use this term, intentionally, because it is rather broad. It may include a chronic medical condition, substance use disorder, mental illness, or any other type of health-related condition that can potentially cause grief within a family. A child coping with the significant illness of a parent, caregiver or sibling can face many challenges.
HOW DOES RAINBOWS PROVIDE SUPPORT?
Rainbows for All Children has helped more than 3.5 million youth over the past 38 years, and continues to serve all children, regardless of age, race, gender or financial ability. If you know a child grieving from a loss, click here to find Rainbows programming near you. The Rainbows program is free for all participants anywhere in the world that groups meet.
By joining the Rainbows community as a facilitator or a participant, you gain access to an effective and engaging curriculum, a community of peers for those experiencing a loss, and materials and training to help facilitators prepare.
This organization offers help and hope to those battling cancer and their families.
Deliver the Dream
This organization offers retreat programs to enable families experiencing serious illness or crisis to regain strength, mend spirits, and come together as a family.
CaringInfo, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, provides free resources to help people make decisions about end-of-life care and services before a crisis.
Mesothelioma Hope provides free educational resources, support, and information to anyone that may have questions about a few different cancers/diseases caused by asbestos.
Articles and Educational Brochures
Parenting With a Chronic Illness
by Sarah Mahoney
This article describes the journey many parents go through when being diagnosed with a chronic illness, the impact on their children, and ways the family can work together to embrace the positives.
Chronically Ill Parents: Helping Children Cope
by Annaben Kazemi
When parents are diagnosed with a chronic illness, they must find ways of helping their children cope to ensure they live a full life in the present. This article outlines differences in how children could respond to their parent’s illness depending on their age and offers parents suggestions on how to talk with their child and answer tough questions.
PARENT & CHILD; When Mom or Dad Is Seriously Ill
by Susan Chira
This article highlights the importance of discussing a parent’s serious illness upfront with a child and allowing them to grieve and discusses how to prepare children for the possibility of a parent’s death.
Natural Beach Living
Visual Cards for Managing Feelings and Emotions Free Printables
“Coping with Grief and Loss” from Help Guide
*Note: not all books only fall under the ages they are listed under. Some with a * can work for older ages as well.
The Healing Code: 6 Minutes to Heal the Source of Your Health, Success, or Relationship Issue
by Ben Johnson
Your healing kit for life—to recover from issues you know about, and repair the ones’ you don’t.
Buy the book here
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life of All Ages
by Leo Buscaglia
This beloved classic has helped thousands of people come to grips with life and death.
Buy the book here
Nowhere Hair: Explains Your Cancer and Chemo to Your Kids*
by Sue Glader, illustrated by Edith Buenen
The little girl in Nowhere Hair knows two things: her mom’s hair is not on her head anymore, so therefore it must be somewhere around the house. After searching the obvious places, the story reveals that her mother, although going through cancer treatment, is still silly, attentive, happy, and yes, sometimes very tired and cranky. She learns that she didn’t cause the cancer, can’t catch it, and that Mommy is still very much up for the job of mothering. For any parent or grandparent, Nowhere Hair offers a comfortable platform to explain something that is inherently very difficult.
Why Does Mommy Hurt? Helping Children Cope with the Challenges of Having a Caregiver with Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia, or Autoimmune Disease
by Elizabeth M. Christy, illustrated by James G. Miller
The children of people with chronic illness and pain suffer quietly. This is a delightful story of a young boy learning to understand and cope with his mother’s illness. The story creates natural opportunities for families to talk about both the symptoms of chronic illness and how they affect family life. Even more importantly, the story puts power into the hands of the children.
The Invisible String*
by Patrice Karst
The Invisible String delivers a particularly compelling message in today’s uncertain times that though we may be separated from the ones we care for, whether through anger, or distance or even death, love is the unending connection that binds us all, and, by extension, ultimately binds every person on the planet to everyone else.
Buy the book here
What Is Cancer Anyway? Explaining Cancer to Children of All Ages
by Karen L. Carney
This book provides basic information that is essential when someone in the family has cancer and does so in a calm, clear, reassuring manner that children and adults will appreciate. Barklay and Eve, the two lovable main characters, define cancer and explain radiation and chemotherapy (including the reasons why some people lose their hair).
Sammy’s Mommy Has Cancer
by Sherry Kohlenberg, illustrated by Lauri Crow
Sammy’s mommy receives treatment for cancer, goes into the hospital for surgery, recovers at home, and shares her continuing love for him.
Someone Special is Very Sick
by Jim Boulden
Elfo guides the reader through the difficult circumstances that can arise when a family member has a prolonged illness. Issues addressed realistically in this book include the hospital visit, medicines, fatigue, and deteriorating physical appearance. Since children often have concerns they don’t know how to express, Elfo demonstrates and validates feelings of sadness, fear, worry, loneliness, and love. Readers are encouraged to talk about their own situation, and suggestions are given for ways young children can help.
Sad Days, Glad Days: A Story About Depression
by Dewitt Hamilton, illustrated by Gail Owens
Amanda Martha explains about the sad days, glad days, and in-between days at her house, which are determined by how her mother feels. Hamilton offers no false promises to those kids whose parents suffer from the illness. Instead, she offers a strong depiction of an honest, loving mother-and-child relationship that’s constantly being tested, and the picture of a child who learns that she’s neither the cause nor the solution to her mother’s problem.
The Choice is Mine
by Yael Shimoni-Shilo
The Choice is Mine describes the feelings felt and situations encountered by a boy who grew up in a house with a mother contending with a chronic, muscle-weakening disease.
by Victoria Taylor
This book follows one girl’s journey as she comes to terms with her father’s life-changing illness. Caitlin hides her true feelings from everyone around her, only confiding in Rufus, a little robin who sits on her windowsill. She pours her heart out to him, completely unaware of his magic abilities. Rufus arranges a trip to an enchanted world where anything is possible. Join Caitlin on her magical adventure to Fairyland where she re-discovers her happiness and learn to see life from a new perspective.
Because…Someone I Love Has Cancer: Kids’ Activity Book
by the American Cancer Society
This inspired publication is designed to address the basic goals of therapeutic support for children who have a loved one with cancer/ featuring five self-sharpening crayons to inspire creativity, this activity book also includes a 16-page removable guide for caregivers with family and group activities, as well as activities that offer ways to discover inner strengths and enhance self-esteem.
My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks*
by Marc Silver and Mara Silver
Currently one million American teenagers live with a parent who is fighting cancer. My Parent Has Cancer and It Really Sucks is the first book written especially for teens to help during this tough time. In a highly designed, engaging style, this book gives practical guidance and allows teens to see that they are not alone, that no matter how rough things get they will get through this difficult time, and that everything they’re feeling is okay.
I’m Not Her
by Janet Gurder
Tess is the exact opposite of her beautiful, athletic sister. Kristina is the sporty one, Tess is the smart one, and that’s okay—they each have their place. Until Kristina is diagnosed with cancer, and her picture-perfect family starts cracking. Now Tess has to fill a new role: the strong one. Because if she doesn’t hold it together, who will?
A Teen’s Guide to Coping: When a Loved One is Sick and Preparing to Die
by Fairview Health Services
This saddle-stitched booklet contains readings and journaling exercises to help teens cope with a loved one’s terminal illness.
Parents and Professionals
The Mother’s Promise
by Sally Hepworth
Alice and her daughter, Zoe, have been a family of two all their lives. With no family to speak of, and the identity of Zoe’s father shrouded in mystery, their team of two works—until Alice gets sick and is given a grim prognosis. Desperate to find stability for Zoe, Alice reaches out to two women who are practically strangers, but who are her only hope: Kate, her oncology nurse, and Sonja, a social worker. As the four of them come together, a chain of events is set into motion and all four of them must confront their sharpest fears and secrets. Imbued with heart and humor in even the darkest moments, The Mother’s Promise is an unforgettable novel about the power of love and forgiveness.
How To Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness
by Kathleen McCue and Ron Bonn
Offering supportive, practical advice from a leading child-life specialist, this book includes information such as what to tell a child about the illness, how to recognize early-warning signs in a child’s drawings, sleep patterns, schoolwork and eating habits, and when and where to get professional help.
The Goldfish Went on Vacation: a Memoir of Loss (and Learning to Tell the Truth About It)
by Patty Dunn
The moment when Patty Dunn’s husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, she felt as though the ground had dropped beneath her. Her grief, however, was immediately interrupted by the realization that she would have to tell their three-year-old son Jake that his father was dying. As much about exploring memory as it is about appreciating the moment, this captivating narrative will serve as genuine comfort for anyone surprised by grief.
Illness in the Family—Children Confronting Uncertainty
This unique 21-minute DVD, the only one of its kind, is an enlightening exploration of serious illness in the family, told from the healthy kid’s perspective. The video weaves beautiful animated artwork and a story-teller’s narrative with heart-felt interviews with kids ages 4 to 16 as they cope with the roller coaster of shock, fear, and uncertainty. The children share their needs, hopes, and resiliency. And the insights they developed along the way can be of great value to parents, teachers, and other kids who find themselves on a similar path.
Psychology Today highlights how children may react when living with a parent with a chronic illness and how you and others can help in making sure the child develops healthy coping methods.
A list of resources for supporting families coping with a chronic illness.
Open Studio Project
The Open Studio Project, located in Evanston, IL,emphasizes the use of art to facilitate growth, healing and understanding.
Institute for Therapy Through the Arts
The institute uses art to conduct therapy sessions. Therapists only use empirically researched methods and provide them within a continuity of care model.
The Family Institute by Northwestern University
This institute offers counseling for families who can’t afford therapy. Therapist of graduate-level therapist-in-training. Committed to strength and healing the whole family system by supporting children, adults, couples and families across their lifespan.
Metropolitan Family Services
From early learning, afterschool and job readiness programs to counseling, mental health services and legal assistance.
Erie Family Health
Provides high quality medical, dental and behavioral healthcare to all regardless of ability to pay.
Evanston/North Chicago Yoga
Operates free summer camps who have been impacted by a parent’s cancer.
Largest national bereavement for youth grieving the death of a significant person in their lives.
Move Your Mind
Stress free environments where we can all connect as teens through movement and creative outlets.
Provides affordable mental health services that make lives better for our clients, their families and the community.
The Teachable Soul
by Andrea Powles
Podcast that talks about Mental Health, Judgement and Trauma
Children’s therapy toys
Find More Resources
We provide resources for all forms of grief.
Of all the children in America, around 15% will experience the death of a family member or sibling. Even though death is ultimately a fact of life, it can be hard for anyone to experience this kind of loss, let alone a child.
There are about 1.25 million divorces per year in the United States. Of all U.S. children, 50% will witness the breakup of their parents’ marriage, and almost 50% of those children will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.
One in 28 children will have a parent become incarcerated before their 18th birthday. Approximately half of children with incarcerated parents are younger than 10 years old.
When a parent, caregiver or sibling is deported, or even when there is the threat of deportation, the whole family suffers.
Parental deployment is a form of loss that 3% of American children experience. This can be a very difficult adjustment for children, who may not be able to see or speak to that parent regularly, and who also may experience a great deal of stress when worried about his or her parent or guardian’s safety.
A child coping with the significant illness of a parent, caregiver or sibling can face many challenges.
Community crises, such as natural disasters, pandemics or political unrest, cause confusing emotions for children. Rainbows’ programs can help children navigate difficult times and provide a sense of stability.
Find A Support Group
Rainbows’ programs help children grieving the loss of a parent or guardian due to death, divorce/separation, deployment, deportation, incarceration or trauma.