Your friend or relative has a child that is fighting an illness or recovering from an injury. You know they are overwhelmed and stressed out, and of course you want to help. But what is the best way to do that? Maybe you keep asking if they need anything and they keep saying that they are fine – even though you know they are not. Here are some suggestions for the best ways to help, and some things to avoid.
Is there anything I can do?
Do not offer vague help. Caregivers have so much going through their heads and it can be hard to sort through what they need in the moment, and some caregivers might be hesitant to ask for help if they think they might be a burden. “call me if you need anything” and “Let me know what I can do” are sweet sentiments but being more specific can be much more helpful.
"Call me if you need anything"
"Let me know what I can do."
"I'm here if you need help."
"I'm going to the store soon, what can I pick up for you?"
"Do you need me to grab anything from your house before I come visit you at the hospital?"
"Does (sibling) need a break? I would like to take (him/her) to (activity)."
Offer an Ear
Parents of sick children often hide their feelings in front of their spouses and children. Giving them a place to be open and honest about how the situation is affecting them can be a tremendous release for them. Be supportive, and let your friend vent their feelings without trying to change the subject or shift the mood. Validate what they are going through. However, it is important to keep in mind that not everyone processes their feelings through venting and not everyone will want to talk to you about what is going on or how they feel. Don’t pressure them to talk, instead just let them know if they ever do want to, you’re there for them (even if being there for them means not being there- some people just want to be alone).
Don't suggest the treatment they chose for their child is not the best course or suggest home remedies.
Don't say "Things happen for a reason" or "I know exactly how you feel."
Don't compare their situation to another person you know with a similar ailment, especially if it was an unfavorable outcome.
Talk to them about your normal day to day life and ask them for your input. (Hold back on too many complaints.)
Let them know it's ok to be upset/ angry/ frustrated/ exhausted. You are there for them no matter what.
Listen actively and check in often.
We've gone over what to say and how to listen, but what else can you do to help out your loved one? For some people, it is the mundane tasks that can become overwhelming when also taking care of an ill child. Families might struggle with remembering to water their plants or not have the time to drive siblings to activities. In fact, sometimes the best help can be to relieve families from the pressures of their daily chores.
Sit with the child for a bit so the caregivers can take a break.
Cook a meal for the family (keep in mind dietary restrictions, likes/dislikes and check to make sure 5 other friends haven’t brought them the same dish already).
Offer to do home care tasks such as watering plants or mowing the lawn.
If you are bringing a present for a sick child, give something small to their siblings as well.
Offer to spend time with or take care of elderly grandparents that may need assistance going to doctor's appointments or doing other daily activities.
Offer to watch siblings recitals or sport games if the parents are unavailable.
Offer to babysit their other children or take care of their pet(s).