Support Children With Serious Illnesses

For students with life-limiting conditions, get peers involved.

March 2017, Volume 40, Issue 7

It is increasingly common for children with serious illness to attend school in regular classes. Advances in treatment and a trend toward brief hospitalizations mean that even children with life-limiting conditions can be active in school until very close to the time of their death.

It’s important to help peers understand what is happening to a seriously ill classmate. Check with the ill student’s parents or guardians, as well as the student, to see what information they would like shared. Focus on providing information about the illness and its treatment at present and in the near-term, not on preparing for their classmate’s possible early death.


The goal is to maximize the ill student’s current quality of life and allow all students to learn more about supporting one another. Help peers be helpful. Share strategies that lessen the likelihood that the ill student will be isolated. Here are examples of some things peers can do.

  • Invite their classmate to join them for recess or lunchtime, or study groups.
  • Suggest a sit-down activity (reading out loud, board games, storytelling) if the student is fatigued or unable to walk far.
  • Offer to carry books or push a wheelchair between classes.
  • Share notes from missed classes, offer to study together, or provide peer tutoring if their classmate is having trouble concentrating because of treatment side effects.
  • Share music playlists and listen together.
  • Do collaborative creative projects, working on the same drawing, video or story.

Invite the class to come up with their own ideas for group projects that allow the ill student to be engaged in an active and dynamic way.

Find additional guidance at the Coalition to Support Grieving Students at Our organization is a member of the Coalition.

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