Back to school with the kids can be a whole new ball game when you’ve got a cancer diagnosis on your plate. As a parent, it's natural to worry about your children adjusting to a new school year, but this can cause a lot of stress during a time when you should be focusing on your own health and well-being, too. The good news: we’ve got suggestions on how to make back to school time a little easier on you. Here are our top five tips for making sure the back to school transition is a smooth one for both you and your little one, brought to you by our very own patient support extraordinaire: Carol Orr.
1) Set realistic goals for your involvement at school.
So you’re not going to be the president of the PTA this year. So what? Let someone else step up to the plate and next year, you can offer. Encourage your children to discuss their days with you so you feel involved and they know you are interested, even if you’re unable to chaperone field trips or help out in class right now.
2) Talk to your kids about cancer.
Children know when something’s wrong and will often follow your example of being open to conversations about your illness. So talk about it! Explain things on a level they can understand, offering enough information to lessen their fear but not overwhelming them. Help them with their emotions by letting them know it’s OK to cry. Heck, you have the same feelings sometimes.
3. Keep your children's teachers and school counselors in the know.
Alerting your children’s teachers and school guidance counselor about what’s going on at home is key. You don’t have to share all the details of your diagnosis if you don’t want, but there may be times when your child is scared or worried about your health, and staying in touch with teachers will be very important. After all, they see your child on a daily basis and can be in tune with behavioral changes.
Let teachers know what comfort measures help your child, so if they notice a change, they can offer extra support. A kind word, extra hug or place to retreat when the going gets rough could make all the difference.
4. Keep information age-appropriate.
Every child is special and unique, including in their coping abilities; there isn’t one way a child will react to the cancer diagnosis of a parent, but it’s important to be mindful of where they are developmentally and what they can handle. Check out this helpful guide from NYU Cancer Institute as a framework of what children understand at various ages, how they cope with certain information and what you can do to help them during this time.
5. Enlist the help of another trusted adult.
The tough truth: there are going to be some questions your children may have about your health that they won’t be comfortable asking you. Respect their privacy and encourage them to reach out to a relative, teacher, guidance counselor or coach. If they feel they can talk openly, they will feel a little more in control of the situation.
Carol Orr has a B.S. in Rehabilitation Services and Psychology. Before coming to work at the Colon Cancer Alliance, she worked as the oncology social worker at a local community hospital and served on the local American Cancer Society Volunteer Leadership Council. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors for Vickie's Angel Foundation, an organization providing financial assistance to families fighting cancer. She and her husband have four children, who she refers to as their greatest blessings.