Preparing your child to return to school or preschool

Preparing your child to return to school or preschool

It is understandable to feel anxious about your child returning to school or preschool after cancer treatment. However, most parents find that the return to school goes a lot more smoothly than expected.

Key points to remember

  • it is a good idea to arrange a meeting with your child's school or preschool before they return
  • meeting with the principal, your child's teachers and other key staff will give you the opportunity to raise any concerns you might have and create a plan for your child's successful return to school
  • there are often simple, practical steps that can happen to help your child settle back into school or preschool life

A child holding a sign

Arrange a meeting with the school

This is part of a whole section on education when a child has cancer for parents. We also have a section for teachers.

It is a good idea to arrange a meeting with your child's school or preschool before they return.

Meeting with the principal, your child's teachers and other key staff will give you the opportunity to raise any concerns you might have and create a plan for your child to successfully return to school.

You can also ask a support person who you feel comfortable with to join you at the meeting. This could be a nurse from your shared care team, a Child Cancer Foundation family support coordinator, or a Leukaemia & Blood Cancer support services coordinator. If your child has been at a health school, then someone from there may also be able to attend.

You can also discuss any allowances or special arrangements that your child may need. There are often simple, practical steps that can help your child settle back into school or preschool life.

Examples include being able to leave class early to avoid the rush or being able to have resting time in class.

Information for parents on returning to school during cancer treatment. CLIC Sargent.

Ask the school about a plan for your child

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a plan that shows how a school may adapt the education programme to fit your child. If your child is a preschooler, then you can ask for an Individual Plan or IP.

It is important to remember that only some students with special education needs will need an IEP or IP. Only a few need one that captures every aspect of their learning.

If appropriate, your child's school will work with you to develop a plan that takes into account your child's:

  • learning needs
  • aspirations
  • personality
  • cultural background

An IEP will record your child's achievements, where they want to go, what support they may need and what success might look like. The IEP is a 'living' document that school staff can regularly update to reflect your child's ongoing development.

Transitioning from a regional health school

If your child has been in a regional health school, their teachers will help your child to transition back to their regular school. If your child has been going to their regular school part-time while recovering, a community regional health school teacher will supervise their IEP.

Choose a key contact person

"I was a bit anxious about him being teased – a couple of kids mentioned it but that was about it". Christina, Noah's mum.

It is a good idea to agree on one key contact person at your child's school or preschool to liaise with you and your family/whānau.

This could be the principal, your child’s main teacher, their syndicate leader or their favourite teacher.

Having one key contact person will help ensure clear communication while your child settles back into their school.

Providing medical information

It's a good idea to provide the school or preschool with information about your child's illness and treatment.

This should include:

  • any ongoing treatment they will receive
  • possible physical and emotional side effects
  • what your child knows about the illness
  • any medication they need and when they should take it
  • a rough schedule of any upcoming treatment, procedures or tests which may result in your child being away from school

Avoiding illness

Having been through the shock of diagnosis and treatment, it is understandable that you may be nervous about your child getting sick again.

As chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, measles and chickenpox can be very dangerous to children going through (or who have had) cancer. See Measles and chickenpox in children with low resistance to infection.

"It's a good idea to get to know your school's receptionist. They are the ones that hear from parents about the different diseases that are going around that might be harmful". Christina, Noah's mum.

It is vital that staff at your child's school or preschool know that they need to let you know straight away if there are any outbreaks. If you have children at different schools, then it is important those schools know this as well.

You can let your school know that there is a letter to inform other parents about your child's cancer diagnosis on this website.

Preparing for questions

Sometimes other children will have questions they want to ask a child returning from cancer treatment.

Frequently asked questions include "what happened to your hair?" and "can I catch cancer?".

It can be a good idea to talk with your child about the sorts of questions they might be asked and discuss what information they are comfortable sharing.

Encourage your child to answer questions in a straightforward way. Children are naturally curious and will want to hear about your child's experiences. After a few days, the probing questions and stares usually stop and children and most teens will return to their previous chat.

Let your child's teacher know that there are some suggested answers to Common questions kids ask about cancer on this website

Getting friends together

If possible, it's a good idea for your child to get together with friends before returning to school. Together they can develop a plan for the first few days back at school or preschool.

You might find it helpful to ask other parents from your child’s school if they can help support you as your child returns to school/preschool. They may be able to offer practical help like picking up a sibling if needed or simply by providing emotional support.

Talk to your school about giving a designated friend special privileges to help your child. They could leave class early to accompany your child to the next class, take the elevator with your child or go to lunch with them before the rush.

Organising for friends to support and stay with your child in the early days will help them to manage any teasing or silly comments.

Managing expectations

Most children will adjust well to school or preschool after returning. However, cancer and its treatments can cause emotional, physical and thinking and learning (cognitive) changes which may affect your child in school.

Some treatments can affect your child's thinking skills.

Problems can include:

  • trouble paying attention
  • difficulty understanding and remembering visual information
  • problems writing quickly or accurately
  • trouble keeping up with new material
  • difficulty with maths problems, columns, or graphs
  • problems planning and organising
  • difficulty copying from a whiteboard

It is important to talk with your healthcare team and school about setting realistic expectations for your child's learning and achievements.

This will help avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your child as they adjust to their school environment. But it's important to balance this with giving your child enough encouragement so they can reach their potential.

You can also discuss what extra support may be available from the school for your child.

The pages in the childhood cancer and education section of this website have been developed in collaboration with the National Child Cancer Network (NZ), and the Ministry of Education. Content has been approved by the National Child Cancer Network (NZ).

This page last reviewed 20 August 2018.
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