Talking Chemo

Butterfly box

Having working with children with childhood cancer, I have seen that art and craft therapy can be a valuable creative escape in difficult circumstances.


You will need:

A box of any shape of size

Coloured Paints and paint brush

Glue – a stronger glue may be needed depending on the weight of your decorations.

Decorative bling, sequins, shapes, glitter, ribbons, stickers – what ever is available



Select a colour or colour combination and brainstorm what the finished product may look like decorated.

Paint your box on the inside and outside.  Painting the inside first may make it easier for small hands to mange the wet painted surface.

Allow to dry.  Use a hair dryer if it is taking too long.

Select your decorative items and glue on.

Allow to dry and set thoroughly.

Celebrate and enjoy your beautiful box for your precious items!


Teaching Points:

This activity is an easy way for a child to achieve success which will lift to their self-esteem at a time when life is difficult with painful procedures, and when children may feel a loss of control in their world.

This box was painted and decorated, another idea could be to decoupage with different types of papers according to the interests of the child, such as sports, motorbikes or an animal.  This may require a specialist glue – make sure it is kid safe before you use it.

I have found in the past that demystifying cancer can bring understanding and awareness to children. Use language and present information according to the child’s age and level of understanding.  There are many resources available on the Internet to assist with this.

Some of these I have used in the past include:
Kemo Shark by H. Elizabeth King & Mitchell McGough

Talking to Kids about Cancer

Children with a blood cancer

Using picture books can open discussion and allow the child to express any questions they may have about their own treatment or the treatment of their loved one.

Having a sheet of paper ready and titled ‘Questions I have…’ allows the child to write any questions that may arise for further investigation with either their loved one or their medical professional.

Here are some ideas for books: 

Cancer Council Victoria :

I particularly like the dinosaur books by Laurie Kransny Brown & Marc Brown.

For Grief and Loss:

Children going through cancer treatment experience a wide range of changes including the loss of routine, not being able to go to school, a loss of learning, being away from their friends, and often away from the family, home and their pets.  Acknowledging these changes and the feelings they bring about are important.

This activity can also be helpful for children experiencing a loved one going  through any physical ailment.  Often siblings journey right alongside the unwell child and need to be supported also.

If the child does not want to talk, that is fine, as they do take in what’s being said to them and processed it in their own time. Forcing or continually pressing a child to talk will only close the doors to painful and raw feelings and emotions that are too overwhelming to express. It may also trigger anger or resentment.  This needs to be treated with sensitivity, compassion and empathy and be done in the child’s timing.

The child may not want to talk with you at all, due to the strength and rawness of their feelings and emotions.  This is okay too, and you can be to instigator of fun activities, and during this valuable time you can continue to give information and education, and normalise their reactions to what is happening around them.  Telling children that most kids feel scared and uncertain when they come to hospital can be reassuring.

Try not to be intimidated by silence from the child, but realise they are listening to what you are saying, and watching what you are doing.  Establishing yourself as a safe person in their world of turmoil is as important than getting them to talk.  Their non verbals may tell everything you need to know – they are overwhelmed, confused, scared or angry.

Be aware of your own body language and expressions, and that you are not mirroring your own worries or anxiety, as children will pick up on this.  My recent learning about mirror neurons has changed the way I approach children.

Over time the child may recognise that you are a safe person, and when they do, they will open up then.  Being exposed to many new things at once can be overwhelming – the hospital environment, medical staff, strange medical terms and painful procedures.  Providing craft therapy helps them to escape that world for a short time and bring a sense of fun and enjoyment with completion of a rewarding task.

Making it an easy and achievable task is the key.

Lots of praise and acknowledgement will be like a soothing balm.

Other useful sites:

Cancer Council Australia

American Cancer Socitey


Links to the Australian Curriculum

Health and physical education / Year 3 and 4 / Personal, Social and Community Health / Being healthy, safe and active

Explore strategies to manage physical, social and emotional change (ACPPS034)


  • discussing physical, social and emotional changes that occur as individuals

Blue Skies Craft – Using art and craft to restore

Blue Skies Tomorrow – There is always hope.


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