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8 Ways to Support a Friend with a Hospitalized Child

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If you have a friend with a hospitalized child you may find yourself at a loss as to what you can do to help. Coming from one of those moms, here are eight ways to support your friend that has a hospitalized child.

8 Ways to Support a Friend that has a Hospitalized Child

8 Ways to Support a Parent with a Hospitalized Child

Being the parent of a chronically ill child is the most helpless feeling in the world. Time spent in a children’s hospital is exhausting, monotonous and, if you’re lucky, uneventful. If you are the friend in this equation, there are some things that you can do during what is quite possibly the most trying time of your friend’s life. Thank you for wanting to be that friend.

Sure, you’re watching Facebook for updates but what else can you do to support your friend?

1. Don’t stay silent

It may not feel like it, but reaching out is one of the most effective ways of helping. This does not necessarily mean that they will respond right away – if at all. It is, instead, truly the thought that counts. If your friend doesn’t respond it could be that there is just too much going on, they read and mentally responded to your text (I do that even when my kid’s not in the hospital – ha!), or that they are in the cafeteria scoping out the dinner prospects for yet another night in, etc…

Just because they may not respond right away that doesn’t mean they didn’t see your message or that they didn’t read it and it certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate and won’t remember your effort. In our experience, there were a handful of non-family members that went above and beyond during our 3-month-long hospital stay. I will never forget their initiative and I promise you that your friend will remember your effort also.

2. Ask

Ask what you can do to ease their boredom and/or calm their nerves. Perhaps bring them a book, a Sudoku puzzle, or maybe some coffee and a relaxing game of Scrabble while the child sleeps? Offer to sit with their child while they get some much needed outside air. For your friend, sometimes just getting up and walking around without feeling guilty is heaven when they’ve been cooped up for days, weeks or even months in the hospital. Keep in mind that their answer may be for you to do nothing at all.

Board Games in the Hospital

3. Do it anyway

Your friend’s needs are not important to them right now. Depending on how well you know your friend, you may know what they need better than they, themselves do. Your friend is so focused on their child that many times they don’t realize that they are neglecting themselves in the process. When you visit, bring a $15 gift card to Chipotle or Subway etc… It doesn’t seem like much now but they will use it at some point and they will be grateful for it when they do.

4. Take their other child(ren)

If your friend has other children offer to take them for the afternoon. Go see a movie or play mini-golf; anything to have a little fun while your friend gets some rest or one-on-one time with their hospitalized child.

8 Ways to Support a Friend with a Hospitalized Child

5. Listen

When you ask your friend how they are doing and they respond that they are “fine” or “just tired” be silent for a few moments. Their automatic response may be that they are fine, tired, restless, bored, exhausted, etc but there is so much more to it than that. By staying silent you are giving them the chance to fully process their answer and your friend, whether they realize it or not, needs to talk and for you to listen.

Just one word of caution — please do not say that you understand how they feel unless you really and truly do. While true empathy is always appreciated, it is absolutely okay that you do not understand their emotions. The point is that you are there and you are trying.

Ways to Help Parents with a Hospitalized Child

6. Clean

If given access to their home (to take the trash to the curb, bring in the mail while they’re gone etc) clean up a bit before they get home. Throw up some banners and balloons… after a stay in the hospital it is so exciting not only to be coming home, but to walk into a celebration of being home!

Ways to Helpa Friend with a Child in the Hospital

7. Say you’ll be there. And then be there.

Visit your friend in the hospital if possible. If they have been in the hospital for longer than a week or two, visit often even if only for short periods of a time. It may sound too easy, but having a friend say they’ll show up and then having that friend actually show up means so much.

For example, if your friend’s child is having surgery, sit with them in the waiting room. You don’t have to talk – heck you could even bring your laptop to get some work done – the point is that you’re there.

When the nurse comes out with updates, your friend is not alone. When the surgeon comes out to talk about the procedure, your friend is not alone. When it’s time to move up to the PICU waiting room, your friend is not alone.

Your friend feels scared, they feel helpless, they feel bored, but at least they don’t feel alone too.

Tips for Being a Good Friend While a Child is Hospitalized

8. Remember important dates

After your friend’s family is home from the hospital, chances are there will be future checkups and tests. Text your friend to see how the checkups went. If you’re worried about remembering those dates, set an alarm or reminder in your phone. It will mean a lot that not only you offered your support during their stay, but that you haven’t forgotten them afterward either. Adjusting back to “normal” life can be difficult as well.

Checkups after Heart Surgery

Having a hospitalized child is never easy, but it is so much easier when you have the right friends to help get you through. Thank you for wanting to be that friend!

More resources for families with ill children

Your Child’s First Cardiology Appointment (What to Take, What to Expect)
Warning Signs of Heart Failure in Children
What is a Congenital Heart Defect? Statistics You Need To Know From a CHD Mom
Ways to Help Prepare a Child for Their Sibling’s Surgery
Things I Wish I Would Have Known About Having a Critically Ill Child
Caden’s Feet: Walking the Path of Congenital Heart Defect {CHD Parent}
Dear Jimmy Kimmel, Welcome to The Heart Club
Living With CHD: Learning Barriers for Children with Congenital Heart Defects 

Helping a Friend with a Hospitalized Child

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7 Comments

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  2. If you want to help get them something they will actually use, don't get them a gift card to a place outside the hospital. When their child is in the hospital they are not going to leave the hospital to go get Subway. Maybe give them a gift debit card so they can use it in the hospital cafeteria.
  3. Is there a link where I can order and buy a Heart Doll to be donated to a child, I knit and crochet, but do not sew together and if it's to be given, I want it to be perfect! Please let me know, as I am eager to donate however I can to a child.\] Not heart, but I have been there.
  4. Oh my goodness, I was browsing around looking at crochet patterns on the internet and saw the picture of you and Caden after his heart surgery. I literally lost my breath for a moment, having a flash back to just over two years ago when I had open heart surgery to remove a tumor from inside my heart. I felt a deep pain in my chest for your son because I remember how much pain I was in, and I was in my mid 50's, not a child who doesn't understand what all is happening. Bless his little mended heart, and hugs for you mom for going through this. I cannot imagine how emotionally terrifying it must have been for you. Sending you and Caden virtual hugs from one zipper club member to another. Anna
  5. I have a CHD child, although we often call the zipper kids (for the 'zipper' scar they have on their chests). It is now 19 years since my son had his two heart operations as a baby but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a very scary and traumatic and there were times we did not think our baby would be coming home but he did come home and now he is 6ft tall and apart from the 'zipper' you wouldn't know there had been anything wrong. I guess I am telling you this to let you and others know that CHD children do grow up and can lead normal lives. I am so very thankful to the skills of the surgeons who worked miracles, which has allowed me to watch my beautiful baby grow into the wonderful person he is today.
  6. Thank you for all the tips on how to support a friend with a hospitalized child. My friend's son has to go in for surgery, and I really want to support her in any way that I can. I really like your tip about visiting her in the hospital. I think that would be a good idea so she won't be alone.
  7. I was the parent in this situation.. We have three kids that are special needs, and our son Kayden is medically fragile. He's been in very long stays in the PICU in Ottawa, Canada (which is 6 hours from our home). I had to go with him while my husband and other kids stayed behind. Unfortunately our stays were 2 months the first time and 5 the 2nd. Hardest times of my life! We're very lucky and fortunate that he is still with us! All of your tips in the article are spot on! I wish I had that one person who could of even just called or be a little more personal. Thanks for putting this out there! It's a great reminder that everyone needs comfort. xo