Helping people when they have a child in hospital – 14 practical things you can do

Seeing your child ill in hospital is one of the most difficult things you will encounter. Whether a premature baby or a teenager approaching adulthood, seeing your child dependent on the expertise of a hospital team to save their lives is the most vulnerable you may ever feel. Your priority is their recovery and wellbeing. Your waking thoughts are focused on charts, stats and test results. You measure time in doctors’ rounds and nurses’ handovers. You may be going home to sleep, creeping into parent accommodation or camping out on a folding hospital bed. You get through it, because you have to, and your child needs the constant in their life to be well, constant.

If you are lucky, like I am, then you will have people around you in life who want to help. People who want to support you and make sure you are fit and well for your child. They will check in on your child’s progress, but they will also be concerned for you. Unless they are medical specialists, there is often little they can do to actually help the child.

If someone you care about is currently spending time with their child in hospital, you may not know how best to help, even if you really want to. You might be worried about causing offence, appearing nosey or interfering. Imagining yourself in the situation might provide clarity. There are things that have undoubtedly helped me. I am fortunate enough to be able to share a list of kind things my friends and family have thought of. I want to share them – as a resource for those facing spending time with their children in hospital, for their loved ones and as a reminder to me, should any of my friends ever need the same in return.

  1. Offer to stop by for coffee – not necessarily to visit the child, but to encourage the parent to take a break.
  2. Prepare little care packs – hand cream, lip balm, cereal bars or snacks, magazines or puzzle books and hand gel are all useful things to have in your bag. Miniature toiletries can be useful if staying in hospital accommodation.
  3. Offer to do chores at home – taking the bins out or clearing out the fridge. Cleaning can be a personal thing but with discretion and thought, it might be a well-received task.
  4. Send meals – good quality frozen meals are very handy after a long day at hospital and feel nourishing and comforting.
  5. Offer to cook – and include lots of fruit and vegetables which can be hard to come by in hospital shops and canteens.
  6. Send messages – check in, without expectation of a reply or detailed information but just to gently remind them that you are available for support.
  7. Provide a water bottle – keeping hydrated is important in hospital. A reusable water bottle keeps costs down, reduced waste and means you always have access to something to drink. Hospital staff have always been happy to provide me with refills.
  8. Coffee shop gift cards make good gifts – if the hospital is near a coffee shop chain, topping up a little gift card with the cost of a coffee provides a nice treat away from parent lounges when money is tight.
  9. Take a cushion – hospital chairs can be uncomfortable and hospital accommodation can be tired. Having a cushion or pillow from home can make you more comfortable.
  10. Keep your word – once you have offered to help in some way, follow through. It is easier to ask for help when you trust people not to let you down.
  11. Listen and nod – it is not a good time to talk about perspective or counting blessings. Gratitude can come later.
  12. Check in again – once the child is discharged, stay in touch. The transition home can be stressful and isolating after all the support in hospital. They might need a chat and sympathetic ear more than ever.
  13. If you can, support fundraising for the relevant department, ward, charity or support organisation. These groups offer specialised and invaluable assistance. They may also be aiming to prevent more children becoming ill.
  14. Share this list! Ask them if anything here would be helpful, either from you or another friend.

Some of the times I have spent in hospital with my little boy have been the most frightening and bleakest in my life. But having thoughtful friends and family have made it manageable and allowed me to care for myself, so I can be a good mum. I would love to hear more tips from other parents – what has helped you? Are you spending time in hospital right now – what would help?


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