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Tips for Supporting Your Child’s Friendships After Cancer

Friendships and other social relationships are an important part of your child’s life.

Many kids are excited to reconnect with friends and classmates after completing cancer treatment. But less time with peers during treatment can make children feel nervous about spending time with other kids.

Your child may worry about losing friends, being rejected, or having to talk about their cancer experiences. You can help your child catch up with old friends and make new ones.

Two young girls smiling and hugging outdoors

It is important to support your child’s ability to make friends after treatment.

How to support your child's friendships

Things you can do to support your child during this transition include:

  • Talk with your child about how they feel about being around their friends and classmates again. Reassure your child it is normal to be nervous about this.
  • Talk with your child about returning home and what to expect from friends. Allow your child to ask questions. These might include:
    • “Will my friends want to play or hang out with me?”
    • “Will my friend group be the same?”
    • “Is it normal that my friend group changed since I started treatment?”
    • “Will I be able to do the same things with my friends I used to do with them?”
  • Prepare your child for physical, mental, and emotional changes that might happen after treatment. These changes might affect their time with friends and classmates. They might include:
    • Getting tired more easily at school or during other activities
    • Having a hard time keeping up during physical activities
    • Adjusting to being around large groups again
    • Looking different than before cancer treatment
  • Talk about things your child might enjoy doing with friends. Help your child brainstorm activities to do with specific friends. Be open to your child pursuing new interests.
  • Your child might want to do activities they enjoyed before treatment. If you think this might be hard, be prepared to make changes that could help.
    • For example, your child might be nervous about a sleepover. Give your child the option of being picked up at bedtime. Or offer to host the sleepover at your house.
    • Maybe your child was on a sports team before treatment. Talk with the coach about ways your child can take part in group practices while rebuilding stamina.
  • Other kids might ask questions that make your child uncomfortable. Help your child think through how to respond if this happens.
  • Your child may worry about being treated differently by peers. Help your child come up with things to say if this happens. For example: “Thank you for checking in. I know my limits. I will let you know if I need help.”
  • Find ways for your child to take part in social activities. You could encourage your child to join clubs, teams, group lessons, or hang out with friends.
  • Consider setting up play dates for your younger child.

How to help your child return to school

Things you can do to support your child’s return to school include:

  • Ensure that teachers understand your child’s social needs.
    • Check in with teachers on a regular basis to see how your child is doing socially. Is your child with classmates at recess? Is your child able to find a partner for group projects?
  • Talk about what your child might want to be shared with classmates about the cancer diagnosis.
  • Your child might be more excited about returning to school if they focus on activities they look forward to doing with friends. You might ask your child questions like:
    • “What are you most excited to do with your class?”
    • “What clubs, teams, or other groups do you want to join?”
  • Include your child in talks about classroom accommodations. You might ask questions like:
    • “How do you think the school can make it easier for you to get around the cafeteria?”
    • “What would make it easier for you to take part in physical education?”
    • “How would you feel about having a buddy with you during recess?”

Questions to ask your care team

  • How can I encourage my child to take part in social activities after cancer?
  • How can child life, social work, and other members of the care team help?
  • What kind of accommodations will my child need at school?
  • How can my child gain confidence in navigating friendships?

Key points about friendships after cancer

  • Reconnecting with friends after cancer may make your child nervous.
  • Talk openly with your child about how they feel about their current friendships and making new friends.
  • Prepare your child for physical, mental, and emotional changes they may have after treatment. 
  • Encourage your child to connect with friends.
  • Prepare them for answering peers’ questions about having cancer.
  • Talk with your child’s teachers about their needs as they return to school.

Reviewed: January 2024