Since your diagnosis, you may be as worried about your
children's welfare as your own. As a consequence, you may wonder if
you should alert your kids' school or other extracurricular
programs about your family's changed circumstances. It may be
difficult to do this, as it can be hard to share intimate details
with people you don't know very well.
Most of us want to look strong and competent under pressure: all
too often, this translates into "going it alone." Or, your kids may
openly discourage your contacting the school because they don't
want to be different or stick out in any way. They also may worry
about being pitied. This may be a concern for parents as well.
In spite of these barriers, you still might want to consider
talking with a few key people at the school because:
Perhaps your son is distracted or worried, and acts up in
school. Perhaps your daughter provokes a rare fight with her best
friend in the middle of class. If teachers know what's going on at
home, they are in a better position to understand why your children
might be behaving this way, and are more likely to be supportive to
you and your family.
In this way, they can provide valuable assistance to both you
and your children.
so you both are confident you know what's going on.
Before you decide whether to contact the school, you might ask
yourself some questions:
If so, you might start by contacting this person. If not, who
has the potential to be the most helpful? Do you need an extra set
of eyes to look for changes in your child's behavior? If so, a
teacher might be the appropriate choice. Do you need more general
information about school policy or child development? Then the
principal or guidance counselor might be your choice.
When you can, take some time to think about who you are in terms
of your personality and style. Do you generally prefer to confide
in one or two friends, or are you more comfortable having many
people to whom you can turn?
For elementary and middle school children, the primary teacher
would probably be the most appropriate person to tell, at the least
(and you can always enlarge your circle later.) For high school age
children, the homeroom teacher or school counselor may be the most
Thinking about how you have responded in other situations might
help you make this decision. You might also consider whether you
want to speak directly to each person you want to inform, or if you
would like your key contact to pass on the news.
Ideally, you would have a chance to talk to the school shortly
after learning of your diagnosis. This may not be possible, but
even a brief conversation in which you describe your situation and
outline your concerns might ease your mind. It may also be
important to contact the school if there is a change in your
treatment or situation, particularly if there is reason to think
there may be additional stress at home.
While your conversations may be different, depending on the age
and grade of your child, the following are some general guidelines
that may help you plan your discussions with school personnel:
News like this travels fast, and you can squelch misinformation
by being clear and direct about your diagnosis and treatment. If
you know, you might share how the type and length of treatment may
affect routines at home. ("While I am getting chemo for the next
six weeks, we all might be a bit distracted and a little off our
usual routine. So please forgive us if my son is late once in a
while or forgets his homework.")
Try to be clear about what your children do and do not know, and
what words you use to describe the illness. For example, if you
have told your children that you are sick and need to go to the
doctor to get better, but you have not yet used the word "cancer,"
ask the school to respect your decision.
Also be specific about the
approach you would like school personnel to take with your kids.
For instance, you might suggest to a teacher, "Please don't tell my
son, 'I feel so badly for you.' We are optimistic and it is more
helpful to be encouraging." When others know how you are talking
about your illness with your children, they often will try to adopt
the same approach and strengthen your efforts.
Certain events or times might be especially hard for your
children. For example, you might be very tired on days following
chemotherapy, and are less available to respond to your kids'
demands. Also tell their teachers how your children typically react
when they are worried, and what they find comforting.
Does the school have an email system? Is it easier and faster
to phone or visit in person? Try to work out an approach that works
For example, you might suggest to your child's 6th grade
teacher, "Could you remind my daughter to put her homework assignments in
her bag before she leaves school?" This type of request can save
everyone a lot of headaches. At what point would you like the
school to inform you that your child's academic work is slipping?
Do you want to know about changes in friendships or other important
relationships? What about asking the teacher to notify you whenever
a major project or deadline approaches?
For example, books dealing with illness or death or writing
assignments in which students are asked to share major life
challenges might be especially difficult for your children. Ask
teachers and other appropriate staff to be sensitive to this
possibility and to support your kids' efforts to complete these
The guidance counselor might be able to spend some extra time
with your son or daughter or may simply be available on a drop-in
basis when times get especially tough. The counselor may also know
of local support groups for kids, or of other families in similar
situations who would be willing to share experiences. The school
may offer support in many different ways, but the staff may not
think to mention them unless you ask.
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