Talking with your child's school

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Having a child with a complex condition means sharing information at school. Learn how to prepare in advance when talking to your child's school.

Key points

  • You should talk to your child's school if they are starting school for the first time; returning to school after a diagnosis; moving to a new grade or classroom setting; or moving to a new school.
  • Make sure that your child's school understands their condition and knows what they can do to help them.

You need to share information about your child with a complex condition and treatment if your child is:

  • starting school for the first time
  • returning to school after a diagnosis
  • moving to a new grade or classroom setting
  • moving to a new school

You may have some concerns about talking to your child's school. You may be worried about how they will fit in with their friends and keep up with school work. The best way to handle this is to prepare in advance.

Meet with the school ahead of time

Make sure the school understands your child's condition and what they can do to help them. Meet the principal, school administrator and teacher face-to-face and explain your child's condition, any limitations they may have, and how they can help support them. Be open to answering their questions in order to help increase their knowledge. You will need to be a strong advocate for your child at school.

  • Be clear about what cognitive and physical limitations your child has so teachers can make the necessary accommodations. This might include things like making allowances for extra time needed to understand instructions or finish exams.
  • Make sure to highlight your child's strengths and areas of interest. This is especially important as it can sometimes be difficult for others to look past the condition to see your child's abilities.
  • Encourage the school to treat your child as they would any other child. Your child's condition should not define your child.
  • There are many ways to communicate with others about your child's needs. You may wish to write a letter for your child's school that summarizes what the school needs to know about your child and her illness.
  • Provide information to update new teachers each year or when your child moves to a new school.

What to do while your child is in school

It is up to you to make sure your child receives the education to which they are entitled. There are many things you can do to make sure that your child has a successful experience in school.

It is important to develop an ongoing relationship with your child's teacher to monitor their academic progress as well as their social relationships with peers. Your child may feel tired sometimes because of medicines or poor sleep patterns during the night. This can affect their experience in school. Let your child's doctor or other health care team members know if there are any changes that you are concerned about, so they can help find solutions.

Support from classmates can also help your child. It is important that your child interacts with their peers and not just with adults. Children who feel they have more support from classmates are less likely to feel depressed and anxious. In consultation with the teacher and the school, seek out another student who may be interested in supporting your child in class. Some ideas that have helped others are:

  • Having a "safe friend": Find a responsible child a few years older than your child, perhaps a neighbour or another student, to be your child's buddy. This friend can watch out for your child, lend an ear if your child is having problems and provide a sense of security.
  • Having a peer tutor: A student in your child's class, or in a higher grade, may take on the role of tutor. The details of the role could be discussed with the teacher. It might simply involve weekly check in meetings with your child to find out what they enjoyed learning and what they found difficult that week.

Stay on top of your child's progress at school. Talk to them about which subjects they do well at and which are more difficult. Set up regular times to meet or communicate with their teacher to discuss your, or the teacher's, concerns. Find out the teacher's perspective on how things are going and how you can help. Organize tutoring or other support as necessary if your child is struggling or falling behind. You can also obtain advice from the health care team.

Talking to classmates about your sick child

  • Children may worry about answering questions from classmates. You can try and imagine questions your child may be asked and rehearse the answers. Helping your child develop responses or scripts in advance can help ease, to some extent, the anxiety related to responding to other students.
  • In conjunction with your child, help other students understand their condition. Consider offering to do a class presentation. This can help create a supportive environment. In this session, the classmates can learn about your child's condition and ask any questions. It is important to ask your child if they feel comfortable with an information session being planned for their classroom, and if so, it would be helpful to find out what your child wants others to know.
  • If your child is linked to a hospital, a staff member may be able to liaise with your child's school. Include your child in the process as much as she wants. Back-to-school resource kits, books, and videos are also available for these sessions.
  • Try and focus on concerns that classmates raise. Encourage children to ask questions. Children take their cues from adults. Being straightforward, answering questions honestly and reassuring children that they have no need to be scared can help create a supportive environment. Be careful not to give out more information than your child themselves know.

Telling other parents about your child's illness

It is your decision how much information you wish to share with the parents of your child's classmates. You might wish to share some information to enlist their support. It may also be important for them to know how to handle an emergency if your child goes to their house to play or study. Sharing information about your child's condition is as important as respecting your child's privacy. Striking a balance between disclosure and privacy is something that you can decide with your child. Think about what you would like to say in order to maintain your child's privacy.

Last updated: June 13th 2012