Helping a 3-year-old with a parent’s serious illness

K writes:

"My husband has just been diagnosed with a very advanced stagecolorectal cancer, and we are in that horrid little wait between
diagnosis and CT scan results and the beginning of chemo/radiation.

Our
daughter is 3 years old in 2 weeks. I am trying to educate myself about
the cancer and the treatments, how to help my husband and support his
healing, but my question to you all is: How can we help our daughter?
She already knows that daddy is in pain and that sometimes he needs to
cry and that often he goes to the doctor, but she is finding it hard to
understand that daddy cannot play wildly like before and that sometimes
mommy and daddy are having serious conversations and sometimes we are
sad.

So she is angry and difficult and she needs everything to be just
so. We have 5 weeks of intense treatment coming up and this will just
be the first little step in a long and difficult process. What can we
do to help her? How can we help her later in the process? I am looking
for any experiences and ideas of how to help a child deal with serious
illness, death, grief… I will be happy for tips on reading and well,
anything really.

one additional aspect of my question i just realized is that our daughter is
turning away from her dad, not wanting to cuddle, often turning her
back to him during dinner etc. you can imagine how sad that makes her
dad and it really makes it clear that we need to help her understand
all this or at least deal…
"

Oh, K, I am so very very sorry for all of you that you are going through this.

I wish I knew what to say and do. I think this post-3-year-old stage can be hard enough for parents and kids to negotiate together, so adding all this on top is going to make things even more difficult for you.

I wonder if it would help to enlist family and friends to help entertain your daughter. Maybe ask if they could take her on outings with their children, playdates, and things like that. It will give her other things to think about and do, and will give you and your husband some time to be able to break down if you need to without having her there.

Readers, do you have any suggestions for K? This is way out of my scope of knowledge.

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