Thank you for the care and compassion that you provide for these very special children who have a brother or sister with cancer.
As a sibling’s world is turned upside down, and the day-to-day fabric of their lives can be so profoundly altered when facing pediatric cancer in their family, school is the place that can provide siblings with a sense of normalcy and vital support.
Supporting the siblings of a child with cancer is a team effort. Support can come from parents or guardians, grandparents, extended family, neighbors or friends. Teachers are an important part of the team. Each child, as you are so aware, has their own individual attributes, and how they respond to their brother or sister’s cancer varies as a result of these many factors, as well as their family situation. You are in a unique position to understand and support these siblings in a way that can make a deep and positive lasting impact.
Many children spend more time with their teachers than anyone else during the day. Teachers who are aware of what is happening in a child or teen’s family life will be more able to help the sibling manage through difficult times and keep up with schoolwork and activities. Thank you for being such an important pillar of support to help siblings heal.
Some Common Sibling Reactions to a Brother or Sister’s Cancer
- Complaints of not feeling well
- Decline in academic performance
- Periods of extreme productivity (overachievement)
- Frequent absences or tardiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Decreased attention span
Interventions - How Teachers and Schools Can Help
- Err on the side of concern
- Provide as much positive feedback as possible
- View irritability as sadness rather than confrontation
- Encourage peer support
- Decrease or modify academic demands
- Assign ongoing parent contact person at school
- Encourage the child to write or draw about her feelings
- Let the student know you care
School is often the place where a sibling can get a break from their concerns and worries. Sometimes, giving the sibling space and not asking how the family or patient is coping is most helpful. Check in with the student to see what he or she prefers.
Siblings Share: Things That Make Us Feel Better
- Having your friends treat you the way they always did
- Teachers asking how I’m doing
- School friends making and sending cards to the brothers and sisters
- Having everyone know
- Remembering that you can’t catch cancer
- Talking to someone special
Posted with permission from the Sibling Program, Dana-Farber Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
Coming soon! ALSF’s Guide for Schools: Supporting Families and Classmates Affected by Childhood Cancer
Pre-order your copy here.