by CanTeen07/12/2018

How to Tell School My Child Has Cancer

It’s important to let your child’s school know about their cancer diagnosis and treatment. School staff can support your child (and any siblings at the same school), and make special arrangements with their assessments at this challenging time. If you have other children at different schools, let them know as well.  

Why tell the school/s? 

Your child may be absent from school while they are having treatment, or may be attending from time to time when they feel up to it. If they know what’s happening, your child’s teachers and school staff can support them and also help you organise the academic support your child needs during their treatment and when they are returning to school. (There’s more information about this in How you can help school help your child.) 

Other children (siblings of your child with cancer) may experience difficulties at school. They may have trouble concentrating or be unable to complete their homework because of their worries or extra responsibilities at home. This can mean their grades go down or they don’t perform as well as they used to. 

When the school is aware of your situation, teachers and other staff members will be more supportive, understanding of any behaviour changes and grant extensions or organise special provisions for assessment and exams – which can be particularly important if your child is in the final years of high school.   

Discuss with your child first 

It’s common for children to not want extra attention, or to be worried about how people at school (teachers and students) will treat them if they know about their (or their brother’s or sister’s) cancer. Before you inform their school, talk to them about how it will help them. Discuss who to tell and how much information to share.  

Reassure them that the principal and teachers will keep it confidential and be discrete.  

How (and what) to tell the school 

  • Generally, the first step is a letter or email to the Principal advising them of the situation and identifying the teachers who should be notified. Here’s a template you can use.  
  • You may also want to send a letter or email directly to your child’s teacher/s and the school counsellor.  
  • If you would prefer the whole school community doesn’t know, ask the Principal or teachers to maintain your family’s privacy. 
  • Choose a key contact – like your child’s home room teacher, or the counsellor – so you only have to communicate with one person and they pass on information to the other people you’ve agreed to advise. It’s good to agree on one person who your child can talk to too (ask your child who they want that to be), so they don’t get overwhelmed with questions from lots of teachers and staff members.  
  • Let relevant staff know what you have told your child/ren about the cancer (and if they’re younger, how you explained what cancer is) so they can respond consistently. Ask that they don’t probe or constantly ask if your child is okay. 
  • Ask them to keep an eye on your child and let you know of any behavioural changes or changes in academic performance.  Also ask them to be alert to how other children in the school are reacting in case there are any thoughtless comments. 

How school can support your child 

  • Discuss with the school staff how your child and the class can stay in touch when your child will be away from school. 
  • Discuss with your child how the school can support him: if he would like to give news to the class, that other students are prepared for how he would look like when he goes back to school and for how they can help him   
  • Discuss with the school how your child is feeling (tiredness, loss of concertation/memory…) and discuss his specific needs and how they can support him.   

More advice/support 

> How you can help school help your child 

> Finding it hard to break the ice with your child’s school, or not getting the response you expected? Call CanTeen (1800 835 932) and one of our Social Workers can offer suggestions for telling/communicating with the school.   

> Join our online parent community to connect with other parents and find out how they   

Useful sites/resources 

> Cancer Council’s book Cancer in the School Community: A guide for staff members explains how the cancer diagnosis of a parent, sibling or other family member can affect a student; how the school can support the student; and helping classmates understand. 

> CanTeen's book Cancer affecting your students is a book for school staff member on how they can support students affected by cancer.