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Resources

Bullying and childhood cancer

Children and teens diagnosed with cancer will go through a very different experience than their peers, which can cause some challenges in their relationships. We look at how they might be the target of bullying and what you can do to help.

Early in a child’s cancer experience, they may miss school and other enjoyable activities which can alert their friends and/or classmates around them that something is wrong. How parents, extended family and the school respond to a cancer diagnosis often depends on how the child is coping with it themselves and how much information a family wants to share with the wider community.

Being diagnosed with cancer means children are different from their peers, and unfortunately this can sometimes lead to bullying. Bullying is repeated mean and aggressive behaviour and children in the primary and secondary school age group may be more susceptible to bullying.

  • physical; loss of hair, weight loss or weight gain, in a wheelchair, scars, amputation
  • emotional; feeling sensitive, weak, overwhelmed or distressed
  • intellectual; speech problems, learning difficulties
  • verbal; yelling, teasing, name calling,
  • physical; hitting, punching, kicking, pushing
  • social; excluding, isolating, spreading rumours
  • cyberbullying; sending mean or threatening messages, texts or emails, putting up embarrassing posts, images or videos on social media

Each child will respond differently when faced with bullying behaviour especially when there is a cancer diagnosis. They may feel confused or upset that someone could be so mean after everything they have been through. Age and personality can play a part as well. Some may go to their parents or a trusted family member or friend and be open about what is happening while others may become closed off and not say anything.

Talk openly with your child and offer the opportunity for them to tell you if something is going on at school or through social media they may be concerned about. They may not want to tell you everything straight away because they could be embarrassed or ashamed, they are being bullied. Offering a listening ear and exercising patience can show your child you are interested in what matters to them.

  • Asking a teacher to talk to a child’s classmates about their cancer may help decrease or stop bullying

Research shows that when classmates understand the illness, they’re more accepting. Teaching classmates about cancer clears up confusion and helps people understand what the child is going through. When people know more about cancer, they might not be as afraid to talk to someone who has it. It could also foster empathy and supportiveness. It is also important to be mindful of cultural differences, so it is important for any professional involved with the family to be guided by the wishes and needs of the child/teenager and their family. [1]

  • Approach possible bullying in a calm and supportive manner

You may want to first speak to your partner or another trusted adult and together with your child and find out more about what happened, how long this has been going on, what type of bullying, and have they spoken to anyone at school about it?

  • Reassure your child

Bullying is not their fault; reassure your child that bullying is not okay and that they did nothing wrong. Every child/teenager has the right to feel safe and secure in a school environment.

  • Encourage early action from the school when you find out about the bullying

How does the school handle potential bullying behaviour? Is there a school counsellor who can support you? What is the safety plan? Are there any school programs supporting anti-bullying and how can you tap into this education?

  • Connect with a safe person

This may be a close friend, teacher, or guidance counsellor. Someone you trust and can talk to if your child/teenager is feeling uncomfortable and unsafe at school.

  • Anti-bullying Policies

You may want to talk to the school about how they manage differences or disabilities caused by cancer and where you can find the school’s anti-bullying policies.

When your child tells you they are being bullied, it could trigger unexpected emotions you may not be prepared for. Providing a safe space gives your child the freedom to discuss their concerns in an open, honest and reassuring way can help your child cope. Redkite is also here with their children’s counselling services which provide a safe space for your child to help navigate their feelings and emotions.

To find out more about our emotional and mental health support services, contact our support team

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  1. Collins, D., Ellis, S., Janin, M., Wakefield, C., Bussey, K., Cohn, R., Lah, S., & Fardell, J. (2018). A Systematic Review Summarizing the State of Evidence on Bullying in Childhood Cancer Patients/Survivors : . Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, 36(1), 55-68.   

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