Cancer anxiety

Expert advice on how to help your child through a grieving period

Q: The mother of my 13-year-old son’s best friend died recently after a two-year struggle with cancer. I have been so impressed with my son’s ability to support his friend. However, he seems to be obsessed with cancer. He researches it on the Internet and is avoiding foods he previously loved. Should I be concerned?

A: Your son’s behaviour is likely an expression of a range of emotions about the death of his friend’s mother that he hasn’t been able to express in words. He has been busy supporting his friend through this difficult time, and this has likely meant that he has not been able to share his own feelings of fear, sadness, guilt and anger. You might share your own grief at the loss of his friend’s mother to encourage him to talk about his feelings. He may also express worries about losing you, to which you can provide reassurance that you are healthy.

Normally, young teenagers believe they are invincible and they go through a gradual process of becoming more aware of their mortality. Your son’s way of coping with having to suddenly face his mortality seems to be to try to prevent his own death by eating only healthy food. This is not necessarily something to be concerned about, and you will probably find that he will relax his harsh food restrictions.