Coping with Cancer: Informing teachers

Many young children attend preschool, for either partial days or full days.  School becomes a central experience for children, one that offers security and predictability.  This safe haven becomes even more important when a parent or grandparent’s cancer enters into the equation.  Certainly by kindergarten and first grade, school has a significant and critical place in a child’s life.  Therefore, bringing the school personnel who work with your child up to speed on what is happening in the family is very important.

So, the first step is telling the teacher, principal or guidance counselor that your family is dealing with cancer.  Make sure the teacher knows what you’ve told your child, their student, and how your child has responded.  Make sure that the lines of communication are open, and that the teacher knows that you expect to be notified if your child demonstrates any changes or disruptions. Young children’s first expressions of fear, regression, or inability to concentrate often appear at school.  For children in the preschool age range, the concern is not so much academic as it is social and behavioral.  If a child’s worry causes him to withdraw from play and activities with other children, or to act out and misbehave, a pattern could be set that will follow that child throughout his school years.

Next, choose a primary contact person in the school.  Who do you want to communicate with if something changes in the family?  It will most likely be your child’s teacher, but you may prefer another individual in the school, with whom you have a previous relationship.  Make sure you always let your child know whom he or she can talk to at the school, and who knows about the illness in the family.  Encourage your child to go to his teacher if any of the other children make comments or ask questions about the family situation, so your child can get immediate help in responding.

Finally, help the teacher understand that school needs to be a place where your preschooler can cope with cancer.  Most young children would prefer not to think about a parent or grandparent’s illness any more often than necessary.  So you don’t want school personnel bringing up the reality of cancer on any regular basis.  Rather, you need the teacher to support your child in having a normal few hours with learning and playing and friends, but to also be on the alert for signs of distress.