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Information central for parenting with breast cancer.

When Things Don’t Go as Planned

When A Child Needs Professional Help

Signs of a Problem

Despite your best efforts, your child may need professional help to deal with the effects of your breast cancer. It’s not always clear to parents whether or not this extra help is needed. Some signs of trouble are listed below. Click here for a downloadable list.


  • Fights with peers or adults
  • Withdraws from friends and family
  • Changes in social behavior
  • Loses interest in friends
  • Acts aggressively (fights with other kids, physically hurts other people)

Energy Level

  • Increase or decrease in energy
  • Loss of motivation
  • Lethargy
  • Sluggishness


  • Hopelessness
  • Inappropriate guilt
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Negativity
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Sadness/tearfulness


  • Self-destructive acts (picking at acne, pulling out hair)
  • Changes in sleep patterns (needs more sleep, needs less sleep, feels sleepy during the day instead of at night)
  • Changes in appetite (significant increase or decrease in appetite, unexpected weight gain or weight loss)
  • Physical complaints (unexplained aches and pains or feelings of physical discomfort)
  • Refuses to go to school
  • Pretends to be sick
  • Destructiveness
  • Regression
  • Inability to complete homework assignments
  • Changes in personal hygiene

Normal vs. Abnormal

All kids go through ups and downs, especially kids whose moms are battling breast cancer. The challenge for parents is determining whether the changes are a “normal” reaction to the stress of cancer. Parents should consider the following questions:

  • Have the changes persisted for more than a couple of weeks?
  • Do the changes affect your child’s ability to function?
  • Is your child having problems more often than not?

You can also ask some of the professionals who know your child. Talk to your pediatrician, to your child’s teachers, and to the school social worker. Ultimately, parents must trust their gut. If in doubt, get help. Click here for a checklist to help determine whether your child needs professional help.

Kinds of Professional Help

Many kinds of professionals are available to help your child with emotional and behavioral problems. In addition to the professionals listed below, your child might benefit from services available at local social service organizations, hospitals, and support groups.

Clinical Psychologist:

  • Academic degree: MS or PhD
  • May specialize in working with children and adolescents
  • May counsel individuals and families
  • May teach problem-solving and social skills


  • Academic degree: MD
  • Licensed to prescribe medication
  • May specialize in working with children and adolescents

Social Worker:

  • Academic degree: MS
  • Work with kids at school
  • May specialize in working with children and adolescents
  • May counsel individuals and families
  • May teach problem-solving and social skills

School Psychologist:

  • Academic degree: MS or PhD
  • May specialize in working with children and adolescents
  • May teach problem-solving and social skills

Seeking More Information

Your Pediatrician

Start with your child’s pediatrician. She already knows your child, and you’re likely to have confidence in her opinions. She can help you understand the types of help that are available for your child and make referrals to the professionals you need.

Cancer Clinic

Ask the staff at the clinic where you’re receiving your cancer treatment. They may be aware of programs and organizations designed to help kids like yours.


If you’re fortunate to have a teaching hospital or a children’s hospital in your community, see if they provide the services you need for your child.


Talk to the social worker, psychologist, or counselor at your child’s school. She can provide some support to your child in the school setting, and she may know of local organizations that provide the services you need.

Nonprofit Organizations

Check online and in the phone book for local nonprofit or social service organizations that offer help for kids like yours. Some communities have volunteer centers that connect volunteers with nonprofit organizations. They may be able to give you some leads, too.

Healthcare Associations

You can learn more about the types of help available for your kids, as well as leads for locating the help you need, by contacting some of the national pediatric healthcare associations. Try visiting the websites for the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

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