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“My Kid Has a Chronic Illness – How Do I Prepare Them for School?”

Back-to-school can cause a variety of concerns for parents. Will my kid like their teacher? Will they have to deal with bullies? Will they reach their potential? But back-to-school can be particularly worrisome for parents of children with chronic illnesses. Whether your child has diabetes, asthma, seizures, heart problems, allergies, or any other condition, it can be scary to entrust your child’s health to school staff for 6+ hours a day. 

So what can parents do to ensure their kid’s health is cared for at school?

1. Learn risk factors

Before considering your child’s needs, it’s important to understand the potential risk factors that chronic illness can present. Chronic illness can contribute to emotional, behavioral, and academic problems including:

  • Increased anxiety from trying to “catch up”

  • Fatigue and irritability 

  • Depression

  • Social isolation

  • Low-self esteem

Understanding these risks will help you determine the best course of action to guard against them.

2. List their needs

Start listing an inventory of needs that you believe would help your child overcome obstacles and succeed at school. Include your kid in the conversation and ask for their input. Some examples might include:

  • Being able to leave class without permission when symptoms arise

  • Accepting late work 

  • Sitting near the door

  • Receiving support with making friends 

  • Allowing rest breaks as needed

  • Having summer course options to reduce their school-year class load

  • Teacher trainings on emergency responses, such as using an EpiPen  

  • Being allowed to complete some schoolwork at home 

  • Regular check-ins with the school counselor

3. Request education support

Set a meeting with the school to discuss your child’s needs and to see if they qualify for accommodations through an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. If classroom accommodations are enough for your child to succeed with the standard curriculum, then a 504 Plan may be the right tool for them. If their condition greatly impairs their learning abilities, they may need an IEP that provides a specially tailored curriculum. A Specialist in Educational Psychology can help you determine which educational resources will work best for your child.

Click below to schedule your free 15-minute consultation with
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Specialist in Educational Psychology and Special Education Consulting

4. Communicate consistently

Frequent communication with the school will increase the staff’s ability to stay informed of your child’s progress and respond to their challenges. Establish regular check-in meetings to keep the faculty and your family on the same page. Build relationships with teachers, administrators, and the school nurse, so everyone is aware of your child’s unique needs.

5. Support self-management

Prior to your child starting school, you may have done the heavy lifting in tending to their medical needs. Running for the steroid cream each time a hive pops up, grabbing their inhaler when they start to get winded, or calling friends to cancel plans when they look a little pale. Encourage your kid to start taking responsibility for their own care before they start school. Teach them how to recognize their symptoms before they get out of hand, administer self-care, and express their needs to teachers.

6. Calculate come-backs

Depending on your child’s condition, they may have medical supplies, such as ostomy bags or glucose meters, that other kids might be curious about. Hopefully your kid won’t be faced with bullying, but it can be helpful to have them rehearse a few comebacks in case of peers being rude or annoying. 

Examples:

“Ew, look at her pricking her finger – what are you, a vampire?”

“Yes actually, but don’t worry – you’re not my type. I’m only into B+.” 

“It’s not fair - why do you get to leave class all the time?”

“Because I’m Batman. The world isn’t going to save itself.”

7. Inspire motivation

Chronic pain and symptoms can make it challenging for your kid to focus on schoolwork. Frequently remind your child to think about their goals to help them stay motivated. Ask them about their passions, have them create vision boards, and tell them stories of celebrities who achieved success despite chronic illness, such as Sarah Hyland who has kidney dysplasia, Nick Jonas who has diabetes, or Selena Gomez who has lupus. 

Check out our blog on fostering passion & persistence in your kid

8. Help them connect

Help your child think through obstacles that hold them back from extracurriculars and time with friends. If their symptoms prevent them from playing football, could they work in the ticket booth or concession stand? If they’re too tired to go to afternoon band practice, are there clubs that meet during lunch? If they have to miss school often, can they Facetime their besties after school hours? Helping them maintain connections with peers will reduce their risks for depression and low self-esteem.

9. Consult a Specialist

Taking a chronic illness to school can be tough on both students and their families. Fortunately, your family doesn’t have to face this alone. Our specialists are experienced in helping students overcome obstacles, achieve their potential, and ensure a supportive school environment.  

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More about Variations Psychology

Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.

Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams, graduate and professional licensing exams such as MCAT, LSAT, GRE, CBEST, NCLEX, GMAT, CA Cosmetology Exam, CA Contractors State Licensing Exam, and CA Bar Exam).

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References:

Ball, M.F., Bayliss, D.M., Glauert, R., Harrison, A., Ohan, J.L. (2016). Chronic Illness and Developmental Vulnerability at School Entry. Pediatrics, 137, 5. Retrieved from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/137/5/e20152475.full.pdf

Chronic Health Conditions (Students with): The Role of the School Nurse (n.d.). National Association of School Nurses. Retrieved from https://www.nasn.org/nasn/advocacy/professional-practice-documents/position-statements/ps-chronic-health

My Child Has a Chronic Illness. What Do I Need to Tell the School? (2014). American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/chronic/Pages/Chronic-Conditions-and-School.aspx

Schulman-Green, D., Jaser, S., Martin, F., Alonzo, A., Grey, M., McCorkle, R., … Whittemore, R. (2012). Processes of self-management in chronic illness. Journal of nursing scholarship : an official publication of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, 44(2), 136–144. doi:10.1111/j.1547-5069.2012.01444.x

Shinn. M.M. (2018). 6 Tips to Prepare for Your Teen’s Independence. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/6-tips-to-prepare-for-your-teens-independence

Shinn. M.M. (2019). 10 Tricks for Talking Back and Keeping Safe with Bullies. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/10-tricks-for-talking-back-and-keeping-safe-from-bullies 

Shinn. M.M. (2018). Does My Child Need Accommodations on the SAT/ACT? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/does-my-child-need-accommodations-for-the-sat-act

Shinn. M.M. (2018). Life Success – Is It About Persistence or Following Your Passion? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/life-success-is-it-about-persistence-or-following-your-passion

Shinn. M.M. (2019). My Kid Might Be Held Back a Grade – What Do I Do?! Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/my-kid-might-be-held-back-a-grade-what-do-i-do 

Shinn. M.M. (2018). Take the Stress Out of Tests! 11 Ways to Manage Test Anxiety. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/take-the-stress-out-of-tests-11-ways-to-manage-test-anxiety

Shinn. M.M. (2018). Should I Let My Teen Get a Job? 10 Things Parents Should Know. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/should-i-let-my-teen-get-a-job-10-things-parents-should-know 

When a Kid Has Long-Term Illness: How to Deal with School (2010). Education.com. Retrieved from https://www.education.com/magazine/article/Chronic-illness-schools/

How to Cite This Blog Article:

Shinn. M.M. (2019). Taking Chronic Illness to School: 9 Tips to Stay Safe & Healthy. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/my-kid-has-a-chronic-illness-how-do-i-prepare-them-for-school