Radiation is one of many treatments your child/teen may undergo at St. Jude. Starting a new treatment can be stressful for the patient as well as for parents and siblings.
Many patients and their siblings have unspoken fears, questions, and false ideas about what will happen during radiation treatment. They may hear doctors, nurses, and other staff members using words they have never heard. If children and teens are not given information in words that they can understand, they are left to imagine what is going to happen. These thoughts can often be scarier than the truth.
Preparing your child/teen ahead of time for radiation will help:
- Reduce anxiety;
- Develop her trust in you and the hospital staff;
- Give her a sense of control over what is going to happen;
- Identify parts of the treatment that may be hard for her; and
- Develop ways to help her cope.
Many different staff members will help your child understand what to expect during treatments. A certified child life specialist is one of the team members who will work closely with your family. This staff member can help explain radiation and other treatments to patients and siblings.
How to help your child / teen through the simulation and treatments
- Be honest. Explain the steps of the simulation and treatments in simple terms that your child can understand. The simulation is the set-up portion of radiation including scans and positioning.
- Give reasons for the simulation and treatments. Let your child/teen know that she did not do or say anything to cause the disease or this treatment.
- Explain to your child/teen what her job will be during the simulation and treatments (such as holding still). Praise her for being helpful (such as “You did a good job holding your head still”).
- Offer choices when you can (such as listening to a favorite CD or book on tape, or just resting during the simulation and treatments).
- Provide chances for medical play. This can help your child/teen become familiar with the medical supplies, imaging machines, and sequence of events. It can also help her gain a sense of control.
How to talk to your child / teen about radiation
Helping your child/teen understand radiation can help her cope better with the simulation and treatments. Use the word “radiation” openly with your child/teen. It will help her be more familiar with the word and more at ease when asking questions. The ideas below can help you talk with your child/teen about radiation in words that fit her age.
Verbal Toddler: Use words your child knows such as “boo-boo”, “owie”, and “medicine”. Explain that the “medicine” will go to the “boo-boo” or “owie” while she is sleeping (under anesthesia).
Preschooler: Explain what will happen in simple terms. “You will be given sleepy medicine (anesthesia) so that your body is very still. While you are asleep, the radiation will come from the machine and go to _________ (naming the area of the body where radiation will go). Radiation is a medicine that you can’t see, hear, or feel. (Another example: Inside your tummy is sick, and the radiation needs to go to that place. While you are asleep, the machine will send the radiation to your tummy.)
Early School-Age: You can explain radiation as “a type of treatment that you cannot see, feel, or touch. A machine sends invisible rays to the sick parts of your body. Your job is to hold your body very still so that the radiation only goes to the parts that are sick.”
School-Age: Many children at this age have begun learning about cells. You may want to explain that radiation is, “a type of treatment used to stop the sick cells in your body from growing or spreading. During your treatment, a machine will send invisible rays to the sick cells in your body. You will not see, hear, or feel the radiation. Your job is to hold your body very still so that the invisible rays only go to the sick cells in your body.”
Teens: At this age, your teen may want to sit in on talks with her doctor to hear the treatment explained in-depth.
Helpful hints for parents
- One parent is welcome to walk their child back for the simulation. Then, they can return to the waiting area until the simulation is complete. This helps staff focus on the patient and the simulation.
- After the initial treatment, each parent will have the opportunity to observe one (1) treatment individually. Limiting parents to one (1) session each helps the staff stay focused on the patient and the treatment.
- Siblings must remain in the waiting area during the patient’s simulation and treatments. Please make sure you have someone in the waiting area to watch siblings before you arrive for the simulation and treatments.
If you would like to learn more or would like help preparing your child for radiation, talk to your child life specialist. If you are away from the hospital, please call the Child Life department. Locally, dial 901-595-3020. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2STJUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3020.
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).
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