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Hospitalization: Family Routine When a Child Is Seriously Ill


Parents rarely have a normal lifestyle when their child is in the hospital. Parents feel helpless, fearful, angry, and worried about the ill child, as well as for other children at home. They sleep in chairs in their child's room or on sofas in the waiting room. They clean up and change clothes in hospital restrooms. Parents can't sleep and lose their appetite. Lack of food and sleep can cause more stress.

Here are some ideas to help you cope with the stress of having a seriously ill child and deal with other family members.

  1. Keep a routine.

    When your child is in the hospital, your routines are changed. Try to stick with a normal schedule as much as possible, especially bedtimes and meals. Other family members need to go on with their lives. Children may want to and should be allowed to participate in school and other normal activities. These activities help children cope with stress. A few laps around a go-cart track, for example, can be a great stress reliever for the kids as well as the parents, uncles, or grandparents who go with them.

  2. Keep physically fit.

    Several studies suggest that physical exercise can help prevent or reduce depression. Get some exercise by taking walks. Exercise will also help you sleep and improve your appetite. The combination of exercise, sleep, and eating can help lower stress levels.

  3. Don't forget siblings.

    Talk briefly and honestly with your other children. Keep the lines of communication open. Let them know you are willing to talk or answer questions. Help them understand what is happening, and let them know that it is hard for everyone. Rather than sitting them down once for a long talk, pay attention to how and when your children want to talk. There are support groups in many cities for children with seriously ill siblings.

    It is a good idea to let brothers and sisters visit, call, email, or send letters, or pictures to the sick child to stay in touch. Parents who are at the hospital with the sick child should have contact every day with the children at home to minimize any feelings of resentment. However, it is still normal for siblings to feel guilty, jealous, and anxious. They may say they are "glad he is sick." Don't be afraid to let your child know that their words and behavior are out of line. You may not feel like setting limits or disciplining your children while you have a child in the hospital. However, sticking to rules helps restore a normal life and limit behavioral problems. For example, you may let children sleep with you because you don't feel like arguing with them. Remember, once a habit like this is started, it is hard to break.

  4. Parents under stress need support.

    Many people say "tell me how I can help", but many parents don't feel comfortable asking for help. It's a better idea to make specific offers such as "What night can I bring over dinner?" There are many things parents need when they have a child in the hospital, for example bringing meals, cleaning the house, or helping take care of other children. Visiting the parents and child in the hospital can also be of comfort. Saying the right thing isn't necessary. Simply being there to listen or hold a hand can be very comforting.

Unfortunately, many families will face a child's hospitalization. It is normal to be tired, lack energy, or feel down in the dumps. It is also normal to feel angry and frustrated. It helps to keep a normal schedule as much as possible, get some exercise, spend time with your other children, and get comfort and support from family and friends. Support groups can also be helpful. Counseling with a mental health professional or clergy person can make a difference.


Written by E. Christophersen, PhD, author of "Little People: Guidelines for Commonsense Child Rearing.".
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2009-04-28

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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