Helping a family with medical issues

When your child is sick, a good friend can make all the difference in the world. But when you are that friend, it can be hard to know what to say or do. Unfortunately, sometimes even the best intentions miss their mark. I recently spoke with a few parents with chronically sick kids who said even some of their best meaning friends were anything but helpful when trying to relate to their position.

“Something I hear repeatedly that has become a thorn in my side, without the person realizing the negative connotations, is the question:  “How do you guys manage? It must be so hard to handle all that responsibility,’” says one dad. “I appreciate the sentiment, but we already know that being a parent of a sick child is hard; we don’t need to be reminded of it. We get through it with some work, but manage to love and have fun in process. The challenge doesn’t define us.”

To help people become better helpers, I’ve spoken with several parents of children with medical conditions, who together helped create this list which we hope can act as a guideline for people looking to help families with a medically fragile child.

Parents of sick children are often pressed for time.

Caring needs no invitation. If you’re looking to help out, a little initiative goes a long way. Parents of sick children are busy people, but for some, asking for help can be tough. Try finding a chore that needs doing and do it without being asked. It takes pressure off the parent, and the added surprise of a having something suddenly removed from their to-do-list can really brighten his or her day.

“I hate inconveniencing other people. I’d rather something not get done than ask someone to do it for me,” says one dad. “When a friend of my wife did our laundry one day after a visit, without either of us knowing, it was such a great gesture.”

If unsure about what chores to do, cleaning and organizational tasks are usually a good starting point. Mundane tasks like picking up around the house, cleaning and shoveling are usually the first the chores to be skipped when time gets tight, but a clean house can go a long way to promote some much needed inner peace.

“We had people come over and mow our lawn, trim our hedges and weed our gardens, which was great because we didn’t have time,” says one mother of a formerly ill child. “Having your house look neat can help you feel calmer, especially if you don’t have the time to clean it yourself,” says another.


Help out with the healthier children too. Being the brother or sister to a chronically ill kid is hard. Not only do you worry, but there’s a good chance mom and dad are spending more time with your sick sibling than you. Helping keep the brothers and sisters of sick kids entertained and happy helps the whole family.

“When our youngest was at his worst, our neighbors were good about picking up our other two kids and taking them for ice cream, mini golf, the beach and all the fun summer things we would have done as family but couldn’t because we were always at the hospital,” says one mom.

Everyone loves a guest chef. Have you ever been so busy you forgot to eat, and by the time you realized how hungry you were it was too late to cook? For some parents of medically fragile kids, this is part of the daily routine. Offering to help out at mealtimes is a common (and welcomed) gesture. Meals that can be frozen for long-term storage, are easily reheated for quick serving and don’t involve too much cleanup are typically the best bet.

“We have a big family so I always appreciated it when people brought us food that consisted of kid-friendly meals for the other children,” says a mom.  “They were quick to ask if any of the kids had food allergies, kept all the containers disposable and always included some paper cups, towels, and plates in cases doing the dishes didn’t fit our schedule.”

A home cooked meal can be a welcome change from take out food, for time starved families

Do a little research. If you’ve got a friend who has a sick child, it could be a welcomed gesture to read a little about her condition and its treatment. Many patient families are forced to become borderline medical experts, while the rest of the world gets to remain blissfully ignorant about so many medical conditions. Unless asked you should shy away from offering too much advice, but knowing even one or two facts about the child’s condition could help you be better prepared to engage the parents on their level if they’re looking to talk.

“As a parent it’s so helpful to not have to explain all the medical details and jargon every time we talk to people,” says a father. “It is warming to have someone to listen to you that seems to really understand what you’re talking about and not just smile with a blank stare on their face.”

Do you have other suggestions to add to the list? Do you have family member or friend that was especially helpful in your time of need? If so, why? We’d love to continue compiling and growing this list and share it with potential helpers all over the world. Please continue the conversation in our comments section, on facebook or via Twitter.

5 thoughts on “Helping a family with medical issues

  1. Thoughtless (or thought provoking) comments from friends and relatives often drive a wedge of isolation into family dynamics. For example: “It is a shame she has to live so long.” “It is a blight on the rest of the family.” “Put her in an institution and enjoy raising your other children.”  “She should be with her own kind.”  “Maybe you can look for others who have similar issues and trade babysitting time.” 

  2. The thing I have found the hardest is that people seem to just want to avoid the issue all together. I would like someone to talk to without uncomfortable silences or topic changes. It is hard enough to have a chronically ill child without being isolated as well.

    1. Also my experience. Very isolating. You just get cut off like you and yours do not matter by most people. So I choose to be around my family and the few that are there for us. Good luck

  3. You find out quickly that most people including your “friends” could care less about your sick child now that you have nothing to give to them. Sure they will be there short term but on the long term it will just be family if you are lucky enough to have a good one and perhaps one or two of your friends will stick it out. Many “friends” will just change the subject if you dare to mention any fear etc you have so that they don’t have to think about it. And I really have tried not to discuss it too much because I know its hard so I try to save my fears for a counselor. I honestly do not remember treating my close “friends” this way when life handed them difficult tasks tended to stick around through the hard I expected it to be the same when our troubles came. Didn’t happen. Perhaps I was just always the listener /giver and attracted takers but I hope most parents of sick kids had a better experience than i have. On the other hand random folks I don’t even know that well or people I was not as close to have really been kind and I so appreciate it. It has really changed my views on people. i pay very close attention to who people really are now rather than just who is fun to be around. Live and learn.

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