Returning to school

Many children return to school during or after treatment without any problems. But it can sometimes be difficult. This often depends on age, if they've been away from school for some time, and how they felt about school before they were diagnosed.

Knowing when to return

If your child's health and treatment allow, they may be able to go back to school. This could be part-time to begin with. Some children welcome the chance to get back to school and to see their friends.

Others, particularly teenagers, may feel more anxiety about going back. This could be because of changes in their appearance or worries about friendships. Some cancer treatments may affect a child's ability to learn. Fatigue, in particular, can make it tricky and this can affect their confidence too.  

It's important to keep this in mind and making sure your child feels ready to return. Getting the right support in place can make a big difference.

Getting support in place

The school might choose to write an Individual Healthcare Plan for your child, which sets out exactly what care will be needed in school and who will give it.

This should be supportive and helpful, showing you that the school is thoughtful about your child's needs and proactive in making arrangements for them. Parents, carers, and medical staff should be included in writing it. However, the school doesn't have to do this as it won't always be necessary.

Being aware of how your child might be feeling

Below are some of the issues that may affect your child when they return to school and guidance on how you can help address them.

Changes in physical appearance

  • Some children and young people feel anxious about changes in physical appearance. It can help if they've seen close friends before going back to school. These friends then know how they look and can understand some of the reasons why
  • Most schools allow pupils who are being treated for cancer to wear clothing or headgear outside of school regulations but make sure you check with the school first
  • Watch Billy-Jean talk about hair loss and see questions from children about how they look and feel

Tiredness and physical limitations

  • When your child first returns to school it can help if hours are flexible so that they don't do full days or can takes rest breaks. If your child prefers to stay inside at break time, most schools let a friend stay with them for company 
  • Tell the school about any treatment that might affect concentration and memory
  • Getting around school can be a worry for older children at large secondary schools in particular. The school can give your child a card to allow them to leave class early and miss the rush between lessons, or at lunchtime
  • Some pupils may not want to be left out during PE lessons. Your child could join in for part of the lesson or take part in a different way eg as referee, scorer, but they may prefer to catch up on work for other subjects instead
  • Watch Grace talk about the side effects of treatment and see questions from children about feeling poorly or tired

"My school made it so much easier. They swapped classes for me so I wouldn't have to walk so far."

Difficult emotions

  • Your child's school and family life may have been disrupted over many months. If you feel that your child is developing anxious behaviours talk to the school, or your CLIC Sargent Social Worker or outreach nurse, to help you arrange support for you and your child
  • Your child may find being separated from you harder than they expect. You may need to 'push' them back to school initially, which can be difficult. Sometimes a professional involved in your child's care is the best person to talk to about this.
  • You might also find it difficult. You may miss your child when they return to school and/or have concerns about their safety. It's only natural to have protective feelings when you've been through so much. Good communication and planning with the school can help
  • Watch Billy-Jean talk about why it's good to talk to people about your feelings and see questions from children about feeling upset or lonely

Falling behind with work

  • Falling behind with work can worry children and young people. This is especially the case for older children doing exam courses. Sometimes younger children may be more worried than they say. School staff should be able to help reassure them and, if necessary, arrange extra teaching or support
  • If older children have missed a lot of school sometimes it can seem logical to repeat a year. However, this is generally considered a bad idea by education professionals as it isolates the pupil from their peers
  • A better solution may be for your child to continue in their normal year group but repeat elements of work they've missed. If repeating a year is the only way your child feels they can complete the work and exams they want to do, then it may be worth discussing the pros and cons with the school
  • Watch Angel talk about how she was supported when she returned to school and see questions from children about preparing to go back 

Bullying

  • Your child's school should have an anti-bullying policy, but if you have any serious concerns you should talk to the school immediately
  • It's helpful if there is a 'key' adult at school that your child can go to if they're upset or finding school difficult. You should also have a 'plan B' person for times when this key adult isn't available
  • When classmates understand your child's illness, they are more likely to be supportive. Teachers can order a free Cancer and school life pack which includes a lesson plan to encourage pupils to think about the ways they can help and communicate with your child in and out of school
  • Find information for teachers about talking to pupils in a class where a child or young person has been diagnosed with cancer

Siblings

Where next?

Updated January 2017, next review due December 2017.

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