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When you get the news that your infant or toddler has cancer, you have so many questions. The first questions may focus on your child’s diagnosis and treatment options.
But as a parent you also know that your child grows, develops, and changes every day. Your child will go through tremendous growth in all areas during the first 3 years of life.
These early years lay the foundation for future learning and development. You may wonder how cancer affects early childhood development. Your child’s care team can help answer your questions.
But keeping all your questions in mind can be difficult—especially when you have so much else going on. It is helpful to bring a list of questions with you as you meet with your care team.
Below is a list of key questions about development and why they are important to ask.
Many things impact your child’s development. This includes how they sleep, what they eat, and how others talk to or play with them. Some treatments also affect development. When this happens, children often benefit from support services.
Many children’s hospitals offer services that help with development. Sometimes these address specific delays or skills. Other times, they focus on prevention, well-being, and helping your child gain new skills.
Services could include:
Sometimes children stop doing certain things such as walking and talking. This may happen as they adjust to all that is going on around them. It also may happen because of their illness or treatment. Your child’s doctor can help identify potential causes. The doctor also can refer you to other professionals to help support your child’s development if needed.
Support services and therapy are often fun for your child. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes therapy is hard for them. You know your child better than anybody else. Keeping that in mind is helpful. Your child’s care team also can help you weigh the pros and cons.
Young children learn and develop best in loving, nurturing relationships. You are your child’s biggest advocate and best asset. Your interactions with your child are powerful. Your child’s care team can help you find ways to use your time together to help your child’s development.
Skin-to-skin contact, sometimes called kangaroo care, is when you hold your infant against your bare chest. Typically, your baby is only wearing a diaper during this time. You may be covered by a blanket or other covering.
This type of care has many benefits. It is very comforting for both you and your baby. It helps your infant stay calm and control his or her feelings, body temperature, and heart rate. This, in turn, is good for his or her development. But the body releases certain medicines (such as thiotepa) through sweat. In these cases, your baby’s doctor may ask you to avoid skin-to-skin contact for a short period.
Holding babies is good for their development, especially young babies. It helps them feel safe and secure and control their internal state (such as heart rate and blood pressure). You may worry that you will hurt your baby if he or she has IV lines or feeding tubes. There is almost always a safe way to hold your baby. Your care team can help you.
Breastfeeding has many benefits—for both you and your baby. Mothers can often continue nursing.
Sometimes you may need to change your typical breastfeeding practices. This may be necessary when you child is taking certain medications. This could include changing from only nursing to pumping and introducing breastmilk by bottle for some time. Many hospitals have trained professionals who can help you.
Your pediatrician may have told you that tummy time (putting your child on his or her tummy during play time on the floor) helps build strength and coordination. You may wonder if tummy time is safe especially if your child has a venous access catheter.
Your child’s doctor can let you know if there are any concerns. Specialists such as occupational therapists can show you safe ways to help your baby have tummy time.
Young children learn by exploring their environment. They are like little scientists. Exploring helps them learn about their surroundings and how things work. Your child’s care team can help you identify ways to allow your little one to explore in safe ways.
Young children learn an incredible amount when they are around other young children. Daycares and early learning centers provide many opportunities for learning. But being around other children can expose your child to more germs.
Your child may have to avoid group settings such as daycare for a while. But each child’s case is different. Your child’s care team can provide you with the most accurate information for your child’s unique situation.
Naps help young children get enough sleep. This is important for brain development. But finding time for a regularly scheduled nap during treatment can be challenging.
There may be times when back-to-back appointments all day are unavoidable. But your child’s care team also can suggest ways to have a protected time for naps when possible.
Your child’s hospital may have rules about co-sleeping or bed-sharing when your child is staying in the hospital. Knowing these rules ahead of time can help your family prepare.
You may wonder if you should parent or set limits in a different way now that your child has cancer. Setting limits remains important for your child’s emotional and behavioral development—even when getting treatment for cancer.
Having limits helps children feel safe and secure because they know their parents are still in charge. It can be scary for young children when they think their parents are no longer in charge. Setting limits also helps your child learn how to treat others and how to make appropriate decisions.
Your child’s care team can help you. They can also refer you to professionals to help support your parenting efforts if desired.
If your child received early intervention services before diagnosis, they likely still need services during treatment. Early intervention services often occur in the home or daycare setting. But if your child spends more time in the hospital, it may make more sense for services to happen there. Your care team can help you coordinate this.
If your child’s treatment is in another state, you have some options. They depend on your circumstances. Your child’s care team can help you. For example, your child may receive services through the hospital. Or if you have a physical address in the new state, the team can help you connect with that state’s early intervention program. The important thing is to make sure your child continues to get needed interventions.
Reviewed: December 2020