Nurses uniformly acknowledge patients’ families as needing their support. This care is often directed toward adult family members, namely spouses, adult children, and the patient’s siblings. A recent Swedish study sought to identify how nurses perceived their role in offering support to young children of parents with life-limiting diagnoses.1
Via focus groups, 22 nurses from hematology, oncology, and neurology units were interviewed. Responses ranged along a spectrum from, “being convinced it is not the nurses’ responsibility” to “working systematically to fulfill the needs of children as relatives and involving them in care.”
The authors acknowledged that nurses require additional education in this realm. Their ambiguity may be associated with fear stemming from two sources.2 Nurses often feel unprepared to answer patients’ questions about how to talk to their children. Additionally, they feel inadequate in knowing how to provide emotional support to children in varying developmental subsets.
In large hospital settings, child life specialists are available to lend support. Yet bedside nurses require skill in identifying children who would benefit from these resources. Nurses in ambulatory and office settings frequently do not have access to these personnel. Hence they require basic skills education in how to offer advice to parents and at times, how to provide direct support to children.
Over the years, I have undertaken numerous interventions to offer support to children. In one institution, I developed a coloring book for grandchildren to help them understand what was transpiring in their grandparent with cancer. I have frequently taken pictures of young children with their sick parent, particularly when I forsaw the future looking grim. I saw this as providing a significant memory for the children of their sick parent prior to their death. I also took pictures of the nurses with the ill adult to emphasize their role in helping the parent or grandparent recover.
Little copers need our support as much as adult family members. Yet they frequently are relegated to the sidelines of supportive care. I am reminded of the advice I heard years ago from a psychiatrist during a talk on family support. He reminded us that just because a child is not talking, does not mean that they are not trying to make sense of the chaos they are observing in their family. Special skills are needed for these special family members.
- Golsater M, Henricson M, Enskar K, Knutsson S. Are children as relatives our responsibility? -How nurses perceive their role in caring for children as relatives of seriously ill patients. Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2016 Dec;25:33-39.
- Turner J, Clavarino A, Yates P, et al. Oncology nurses’ perceptions of their supportive care for parents with advanced cancer: Challenges and educational needs. Psychooncology. 2007 Feb;16(2):149-57.