Techniques To Help Your Child With Cancer Treatment

Techniques To Help Your Child With Cancer Treatment

There are a range of techniques you can use to help your child cope with their cancer treatment.


Key points about techniques to help your child with cancer treatment

  • read through the range of techniques with your child
  • talk with your child about the activities that appeal

Which techniques can I use to help my child cope with their treatment?

Techniques you can try with your child include: 

  • distraction
  • participation
  • de-sensitisation
  • guided imagery
  • self instruction
  • relaxation

Read through the techniques with your child and talk with them about the activities that appeal.

Talk about how to use the activities you choose.

Ask your nurse for any help you need to prepare for your chosen activity. For example, you may want a TV, laptop or tablet in the treatment room or games or books that your child chooses.

Find out how to support your child before, during and after cancer treatment


Distraction provides an alternative focus to minimise fear and anxiety.

You can use any of these to help distract your child:

  • interactive books, musical buttons, pop-up books
  • favourite stories
  • a story you can read with your child contributing - the story can be about your child's favourite character, who is having the same medical procedure and who is a superhero
  • bubbles - your child can blow them or you can blow them and your child can blow or pat them away
  • puppets, jack-in-the-box or kaleidoscope
  • counting games
  • spotting games such as counting the number of times a certain object appears or the number of different animals in a picture
  • a TV programme
  • computer games
  • photographs from home of holidays, friends, pets, and school
  • favourite music or even chanting
  • favourite toy or favourite comforter
  • for infants - stroking, nursery rhymes, songs such as 'pat-a-cake', swaddling, rocking and patting may be soothing and distracting


Allow your child to be involved in some or all of the following.

  • helping the nurse to prepare for the procedure
  • touching and holding or 'using' safe equipment
  • choosing the place for an injection or blood test - for example, choose which finger for the skin prick

If I think my child will benefit from participation, how do I arrange it?

Speak to your nurse who is making arrangements for the treatment and tell them that your child would like to help with the preparations.

You can check out some information about helping your child manage their treatment. But remember, it's not specifically for tamariki (children) with cancer.

Find out more about helping your child manage their treatment


This technique can be a very helpful approach with some tamariki. It usually needs the help of a hospital play specialist, senior nurse or child psychologist.

The technique allows your child to face whatever they fear in a graded, step by step way. Your child decides the pace so that they associate the feared object with a comfortable emotional state.

How can I get more information about de-sensitisation?

Speak to your nurse and say that you and your child are interested and would like to know more.

Where do we get help if we decide to try de-sensitisation?

Your nurse will make all the arrangements necessary.

Read about the importance of play for your child in hospital

Guided imagery

The aim is to guide your child to imagine themselves in another place, or doing a chosen activity. Your child is guided by the voice telling the story to see themselves in a place of their choice. Your child has decided on and discussed the place beforehand. It may help to write down a story. Examples are a favourite holiday place, your child's own bedroom, and activities in the playground.

You or a staff member can be the storyteller - or you can play a prerecorded voice during treatment.

Rangatahi (young people) can use this technique particularly well, and may prefer to have soothing music playing while they take themselves to a 'special place' in their imagination.


Self-instruction includes things such as: 

  • positive self-talk - "I can do it"; "this will be over soon"; "I'll be OK"
  • parental coaching - "you can do it"; "this will be over soon"; "you will be OK"
  • thought stopping - your child makes a conscious effort not to think about the procedure and concentrates on thinking about other experiences
  • self-pacing and counting - useful combined with deep breathing


Relaxation techniques include: 

  • deep breathing
  • blowing
  • aromatherapy
  • massage
  • soothing music
  • dimmed lighting

Read more about coping with cancer treatment and hospital

Read more about childhood cancer


All the pages in the childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the clinical leader of the National Child Cancer Network.

This page last reviewed 10 June 2021.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it