Supporting young children with cancer

Supporting young children with cancer

In hospital, young children can become used to interacting with more adults than children, and they may need more support from early childhood teachers.

Key points to remember

  • in hospital, young children can become used to interacting with more adults than children, and they may need more support from early childhood teachers
  • it is important to use inclusive strategies to support young children with cancer in both large and small groups
  • setting up a medical play area can allow them to play through their experiences of illness and treatment

A boy in a playhouse

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

Set up a medical play area

It can be a good idea to set up a medical play area in your classroom. This can allow a young child with cancer to play through their experiences of illness and treatment. A medical play area can allow them to further develop their understanding and express their emotions about the changes to their world.

Remember to give the young child with cancer time and privacy. Some young children may not want to talk about or play through their experiences at first (or at all).

Protecting a young child with cancer from infections

Young children who are recovering from cancer treatment are especially at risk of infections. It is vital that your early learning service lets the parents of your student with cancer know if there are any children at your centre with measles or chickenpox. See: Measles and chickenpox in children with low resistance to infection. It is also important that parents let your early childhood centre know if their children have been in contact with anyone with measles or chickenpox.

See Letter to let other parents know about your student's cancer.

Answering questions about cancer

Young children will have a lot of questions about their friend who has cancer. The section on Common questions kids ask about cancer can help provide answers to some of these questions.

Use inclusive strategies to help a young child with cancer

In hospital, young children can become used to interacting with more adults than children, and they may need more support from early childhood teachers.

Try to use inclusive strategies to support a young child with cancer in both large and small groups. Encourage them to actively take part in conversations and group activities.

It is important to be aware of a young child who avoids attention and plays by themselves quietly as well as the one with a more outgoing personality.

Early childhood teachers generally find that young children experience less teasing and embarrassment about their cancer than children in school.

A cartoon family

Keep an eye on a young child with cancer during outdoor play

You may need to keep a closer eye on a young child with cancer during outdoor play and physical activities as they regain their confidence and coordination. Remember to keep an eye on other young children to make sure they are not playing too rough. It is also important to keep an eye out for signs of fatigue in young children with cancer.

Learning support

Young children with cancer may be eligible for help from the Ministry of Education Learning Support Early Intervention Service.

The service works with families and early childhood educators who ask for help when they are concerned about the learning and development of young children. This may concern a child's developmental delay, disability, behaviour and/or communication difficulties.

The service can work with children from birth until they start school.

The early intervention teams work closely with specialists from the Ministry of Health, such as audiologists, physiotherapists, paediatricians, dieticians and occupational therapists to ensure children who need extra support can access it.

Find out more about the Learning Support Early Intervention Service on the Ministry of Education website.

This page last reviewed 20 August 2018.
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