How a child's class can help a student sick with cancer

Tips for how a sick child's classroom can  helping and supporting a child who is in and out of the hospital with cancer

- Kids in long hospital stays want to preserve as much normalcy as possible, including participating in school as much as possible.  Set up Skype session so that the Child can interact with his class and participate.

 

-Kids in hospitals also like to have decorations to help make the room their own. If any kids in the Child’s class want to make something small to send to Child’s room,  thinks that would be nice.

 

- the Child will need as much normalcy as possible in his life too! It’s important for kids in the Child's class to know what he’s going through and be sensitive to it, but otherwise treat the Child as they normally do.

 

- Families in the Child’s class can also help out with making sure the Child has playdates and has transportation to and from extracurriculars, so he doesn’t miss those. One thought, though: the Child might benefit from some help making sure he’s keeping up with his homework.

 

- it would be nice to for the families organize phone calls (or skype visits) for Caleb from classmates on a regular basis while he’s in the hospital -- i.e. one per night. The more integration and contact he has with other kids and the school, the better.

 

- families with sick kids get overwhelmed with offers for help. It might be best for the child's class to pick one class representative to talk to the parents and find out what they could use help with, and then organize providing that help with other people.

 

- it’s important for any offers of help for the parents to be specific and proactive (i.e. offer to do something on a specific day, because open-ended offers -- “we’re here if you need anything!” -- while well-meant, tend not to get picked up on; the parents of sick children are too busy to organize who to ask for help.

 

- it’s also important for help to keep coming, especially when reatment  can take at least six months, and conceivably a few months longer -- so parents will need help for a while.

 

- if any kids are going to visit the Child in the hospital, explain to them what the Child is likely to look like -- i.e. any tubes, puffiness in his face due to steroids, a “port” for meds. This helps prevent kids from inadvertantly hurting his feelings by commenting on his appearance.

 

- the goal is to get the Child back to school as soon as possible once his treatment is fully underway. This might take some time, and he might only come for a few hours here and there in the months to come.

 

- Since the rounds of chemo seriously debilitate his immune system, when he actually *does* come to the school, families should be very careful to monitor their kids for sickness -- particularly things like flu and chicken pox. (That said, when the Child comes back to class you’ll probably get more communications and specifics about what families can do.)

 

- it’s okay to talk to your kids about what cancer is, and use the word “cancer”. Often kids worry it’s contagious, so it’s important to tell them it’s not. It’s important also tell them that the Child is sick but the doctors are taking excellent care of them, and “that they expect him to get better.” It’s not good to *promise* a child that another sick child will get better -- merely that we “expect” him to get better.

 

- arranging visits for other kids to see the Child is a great idea -- providing it’s prearranged with the parents. Be prepared for the plan to change, though; the Child might be feeling great one moment, then bad the next. (Note: I was unclear whether this meant visits in the hospital right now, or visits when the Child is back home.)

 

- if your child is worried about what sickness and/or cancer means show them a Peanuts movie from the 70s called “Why, Charlie Brown, Why?”, in which one of Charlie Brown’s friends gets sick and hospitalized. Even though it’s decades old, it’s still the best thing on the subject.

 

Further Reading:

 

Resources for talking to a child about Cancer

Resources for Parents Under Stress