How to Support a Parent Caring for a Child with a Serious Illness

Dr. Angela Seabright
Elise LaPointe

| 3 min read

Receiving a diagnosis that a child is seriously ill can be a shock to the system. However, with the right support system some of the burden can be taken from the parents, so they can focus their attention on caring for their child.
Helping a friend or family member in need becomes increasingly important during this difficult time so be sure to understand the ways you can support during the process of caring for a sick child. If you know someone with a child who has a serious illness try some of these tips to help relieve a little of the stress they’re likely feeling.
  • Dinner dates: Take the caregiver out to dinner at their favorite restaurant. Enjoying good food among good company is a recipe for relaxation. Talk about normal, everyday topics while still allowing the conversation to flow freely. This lets the parent know that even though their life has changed drastically, your friendship hasn’t changed, which is oftentimes needed for adults experiencing a child with a serious illness.
  • Care baskets: Bring necessities if they’re staying for an extended period of time at the hospital. A change of clothes, healthy snacks, books, pillow and a blanket can go a long way. Even if you just stop by with their favorite coffee order the parents will see that you care and are there for them during this difficult time even if you can’t articulate that with words.
  • Offer help around their household: Caring for a sick child can sometimes equate to household duties falling to the wayside. Being there for their child while multitasking, especially if they have other children, can become difficult to manage. Picking the siblings up or dropping them off at practice or school, watching the other children while the parents are at the hospital, making home-cooked meals for the family or cleaning up their yard are tasks we don’t think about being important and valued until they become strained. An offer to help can go a long way.
  • Communication: Make a point to keep an open line of communication at all times between yourself and the parents or caregivers. Visit them when you can to let them know you’re there to assist them in anyway they may need.
  • Don’t overburden them: Offer to help and listen to them when they need to talk but be sure to not suffocate them with your presence. This can put additional stress on the parent. Everyone copes differently so don’t expect the parents to behave in a certain way.
  • Keep them active: Exercise is a great way to get parents’ minds off a grave diagnosis. The strenuous activity enables them to focus only on their movement and nothing else. Offer to go to yoga with them to de-stress, sign up for an intense cycling class or just set aside time that works for them to hit the gym together.
  • Know what to say when: There’s no right or wrong thing to say to a parent of a sick child, but there are better condolences to offer. If you’re unsure of how to offer your sympathy, read this article from the Make a Wish Foundation to help formulate your thoughts.
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