Having a family member on ICU can be tough for children. Children will have different ways of trying to cope with the situation. What you can tell your child will also depend on their age.
You can help your child by explaining and being honest if you don't know what is going to happen while also saying something that will help your child feel secure and reassured. For example: “Dad is very sick but the doctors are doing everything they can to help”.
You can also help your child by:
• keeping as much of your child's routine as possible
• letting the daycare or school know what has happened
• encouraging your child to keep a diary
• encouraging your child to draw pictures
Keeping a diary and/or drawing can make it easier for your child to talk about what they are experiencing.
Once your family member returns home, your child may need help dealing with what has happened. This can be a gradual process and can take several months. At times, it may be helpful to mention the family member's stay in ICU. This gives the child a chance to talk about it if they wish to.
Younger children may want to express their feelings through drawing a picture or acting out something that has happened. Let your child ask questions and ask them how they felt at that time.
Talk to staff first about bringing a child to visit the ICU. If your child wishes to visit the ICU it is good to prepare them for what they might see. Talk to them about how their loved one might look. Talk to them about the machines that their family member might have attached to them. Give them an idea of what will happen during the visit.
This topic was reviewed by an intensive care medicine specialist in July 2022.