About six months ago, I had three friends with children who were sick.
I’m not talking about a bad cold or a flu virus…I’m talking about 3rd degree burns over 80% of his legs, heart surgery to replace a valve, and inoperable brain cancer.
And my heart ached. It ached for them. It ached for their kiddos. It ached for their spouse.
Usually, when my heart aches, it also feels moved to do something. I wanted to help. I wanted them to know that I care. I wanted to be a stretcher bearer.
But then reality sunk in … What am I suppose to do? What should I say when a friend’s child is sick?
As you all know, I have a relationship with Children’s Mercy Hospital and each quarter I write on a different subject. Usually, they have a list of pre-planned items, but they always ask me if there is a specific topic I want to write about…and this time, I wanted to write about what to say when a friend’s child is sick.
At some point, we will ALL have a friend or sister or cousin or neighbor, who will have a child that is sick and need hospitalization. And, because we are good friends, sisters, cousins or neighbors, we will want to help out.
I sat down (via phone) with Claudia Ricks Hubbard, M.Div, B.C.C., who is a staff chaplain and spiritual services education coordinator at Children’s Mercy Hospital to walk me through the “What Should You Say”, “What Should You Not Say”, and what is the way to be the most helpful when a friend’s child is sick.
What To Say When A Friend’s Child Is Sick
1. “How are you feeling?”
This is different than “Tell me about the medical issue.” They are caught up in the myriad of medical jargon day in and day out and most likely need someone to just listen to how they are feeling. (If you are that interested in the medical nature of the sickness, do a google search.) Ask open ended questions like, “How do you feel about the diagnoses?” or “What this like for you?” Also, remember to not impose how you are feeling or think they should be feeling in your questioning.
2. Can I help with your other children?
Offer to have a sibling over for a play date or to take them to/from school. Find an activity to take them on during the weekend. Many times childcare can be an issue for families with a sick child. Just knowing they have one less thing on their plate can bring a huge sense of relief.
3. “How is you faith?”
(Only ask this question if you KNOW they are involved in a church.) Having a sick child can rock the foundation of people’s faith. They may be very angry at God or they might have found respite in God. Either way, respond to their emotion and validate it, but don’t try to fix it. If you feel comfortable, tell your friend that you’ll be praying for the child and the family.
4. “I’m so sad to see you go through this.”
It’s okay to share that you care about them and feel empathy. Also remember, by saying this, you are allowing them to just nod and not say anything. Sometimes people are too talked out – talking to doctors, nurses, other family members and they may just want to sit in silence with a friend. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence. Sometimes it’s just having someone close is the true comfort.
5. Can I help coordinate others who may want to help?
In most cases, lots of people want to help. And honestly, the family only needs so much help on certain days. Offer to take over as the coordinator so that your friend isn’t stuck with 17 casseroles and trays of cookies during the first few days of a hospital stay. Plus, by being the coordinator you can ask specific questions about ways to be helpful…like doing laundry, mowing the yard, vacuuming the floors, picking up groceries, etc.
What Not To Say When A Friend’s Child Is Sick
1. “Oh, I understand.”
Nope, you can’t understand. No one can understand completely what they are going through because everyone experiences situations differently. Also, by saying you understand, it can diminish the feelings a person may be having.
2. “I promise, it will be okay.”
Do you really promise? Do you have the power to know that it will be okay? You have no idea if it will or won’t be, so don’t say it.
3. “Everything happens for a reason.” or “This is all part of God’s plan.”
It might feel comforting to say to someone in the moment, but honestly, sometimes bad stuff happens and there is no rhyme or reason to it. Plus, this saying can backfire if the child passes away…because who wants to believe is a God that purposefully takes children away from their parents.
4. “God will not give you more than you can bear.”
Not true. Lots of people have way more than they can bear. They are doing their absolute best and it can still end up feeling like a hot mess. Anxiety can creep in, because if they are getting only what they can bear, what happens when more gets added to the list.
5. “Your child is strong and will be an amazing fighter.”
But what happens if the child tries hard and they still can’t beat the disease. Did that mean they didn’t try hard enough? Sometimes no matter how hard the child fights, they can’t beat the disease.
What Kind of Tangible Things Can You Do
- Give the mother a gift certificate to get a manicure/pedicure. When she is constantly nurturing and reassuring, this kind act helps her feel nurtured too.
- Come to hospital and offer to take a walk with the parent on campus. Sometimes a change in surroundings is a great pick-me-up.
- Be a safe a place to come when your friend is feeling bad. Listen more than you talk. Allow silence. Don’t try to fix it.
- Make the siblings a goodie basket and take it to their home. Siblings can often feel resentful at a parent for being absent and all the attention to the sick child.
- Don’t feel like you have to talk about the hospital situation all the time. Talk about something your friend is interested in …. A good download on the Real Housewives of What City. Talk about things that you’d read in People magazine.
- Write notes of encouragement on paper.
- Take care of meals. But try to bring manageable, smaller portions of food and items that can be frozen. Gift cards are nice. Or offer to drop lunch off to the hospital for extended stays, but make sure they know you are coming.
- Every family is different. Keep trying. And sometimes just the doing is enough. Also check in several weeks after the first hospital stay…everyone is around during the first couple of weeks, but can disappear after some time and the family still needs support.
What about you? Have you went through a time when you child was sick? Was there something someone did that made you feel supported and cared for? What other ideas can we add to this list?
PS: A huge thanks to Claudia Ricks Hubbard, M.Div, B.C.C. for being patient with all of my questions.
Disclosure: Children’s Mercy is a partner of RedefinedMom. However, the written remarks and opinions are entirely my own. Want more information – check out my full disclosure statement.