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Intensive Care: A Guide for You and Your Family

Helping your child

Your child will be worried and scared if a parent or a close family member is in the ICU. Be honest and explain what’s happening in a way that they can understand. How much and what you tell them depends on their age and why their parent or family member is in the ICU.

Your child may or may not want to visit the bedside of their family member. Let yourself be guided by how they respond to the situation. Check with staff before bringing your child to the unit and talk to the child about what they’ll see. Include a short description of the machines, what they do, and how their parent or family member may look.

You can help your child deal with the situation by using these tips:

It may help to talk about the parent’s stay in hospital so your child knows it’s OK to talk about it.

  • Let them know what’s going on and answer their questions in the best way you can. If you don’t know what’s going to happen, or aren’t sure, try to tell them something they can understand. This will help reassure your child and feel more secure, for example, “Daddy is very ill but the ICU team is doing everything they can to help him”
  • Keep to their usual routine and activities as much as possible
  • Encourage them to keep a diary. It could include a brief description of each day and any souvenirs that they would like to include, such as pictures
  • Tell the school, and any other people (such as a coach, dance or music teacher) that the child’s parent or close family member is in intensive care

This all helps your child understand what’s happening and makes it easier for them to talk about what happened in their life while their parent was in hospital.

Once the parent is out of the ICU, your child may need help dealing with what happened. This can be a gradual process and can take several months. Let them ask questions. Ask them how they felt during that time. If your child is very young, they may find it easier to show their feelings by drawing pictures or acting out what happened.

Remember that children can ask very blunt questions. Sometimes the parent who’s been ill doesn’t feel strong enough to cope with this. You can ask another family member or friend to talk to your child about their experiences and feelings.

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