Mighty Blog

How to support a family with a child in the hospital

Many of us have unfortunately been in this situation: Your friend’s family has a child in the hospital, maybe it’s for one day, one week or longer. It’s hard to know what to do for your friend and their family. Many people wonder: What should I bring? How can I help that would actually help them and not bother them? We understand this can be hard. 

That’s why we asked families in our Family Advisory Council (FAC). The FAC is a diverse group of families whose children have received care (inpatient or outpatient) at one of our facilities. They work collaboratively with staff to promote and enhance patient- and family-centered care and to improve the family and patient experience. 

Our FAC families are providing you with first-hand accounts of different ways they felt supported and helped throughout their child’s stay at Children’s Minnesota.

How can I help my friend’s family with a child in the hospital? 

We received many answers from our FAC, so we broke it out into different sections for you. 

Show up 

  • Showing up could mean anything from physically showing up to support your friend/family member, to sending messages of support and just letting them know you’re there if they want to talk. 
  • Everyone is different and especially how they cope depends on their situation. Make sure you get the family’s permission before visiting. They may need space and that’s OK. 
  • Offer to come to the hospital and allow the parent/guardian to go home, take a shower and decompress for a bit. As a parent in the hospital, you have to remember, it’s not selfish to take care of yourself. 

Support with action 

  • Instead of saying, “Can I do anything to help?,” find out how you can support with specific actions like: mowing the lawn, shoveling the driveaway, grab the mail, clean the house. 
  • Help take care of their pets or take them out on walks.  
  • Offer to run errands or pick up and bring items from their home that they may need at the hospital. 
  • Offer and plan fun activities with the patient’s sibling(s) who are in the hospital. It will help them have a little fun and focus on being a kid. Or, offer to stay with the patient in the hospital so the parent can go with their other child to do a fun activity. 

Provide meals and food 

  • Organize a meal train with a group of friends/family to deliver home-cooked meals so they don’t have to worry about cooking. Or, cook a meal in the family’s home so they have a hot meal to come home to or they can freeze it for the days they need a quick meal.  
  • Provide a gift card so they can order food. 
  • If the family is staying at the Ronald McDonald House, cook a meal there onsite to not only feed your friends/family members, but all the families staying there. Learn more about their Cooks for Kids option. 

Let them know you’re there 

  • Reading your texts, emails, some form of reaching out and knowing that you care means a lot. We may not always have the capacity to reply, but just knowing that you care and reaching out is helpful. 
  • Constant text messages from family and friends can be overwhelming, so an idea would be to create a CaringBridge site where a trusted friend/family member who regularly receives updates can provide health updates to the patient family’s circle of friends and family, but there’s no pressure to reply back. Friends and family can leave comments and share positive messages, memories, funny jokes or anything the patient family would enjoy reading – but there’s still no pressure for the patient family to reply back. 

Help thank the care team

  • Families in the hospital don’t always have the capacity to show their gratitude for their hospital care team other than saying, “Thank you.” An example is: A friend brought donuts and treats for our care team just to show them a little extra love and say thank you. 

Continue to check in, even when they’re back from the hospital 

  • The family likely experienced a lot of stress with their child in the hospital. As they try to gain a sense of normalcy after their hospital stay, don’t forget to continue to check in with them and offer support/help. Show them that you’re there for the journey. You can set a calendar reminder on your phone if that helps to remember.   

Children’s Minnesota is grateful for all of our FAC members who strive to promote patient- and family-centered care and advise and advocate for children and their families. Thank you, FAC!

Alexandra Rothstein