How to support the child of a hospitalized COVID-19 patient

How to support the child of a hospitalized COVID-19 patient

Almost no one has faced a reality like this one. It’s no wonder children are worried – they along with us are experiencing a very different day-to-day life than they’ve ever known.

A child indefinitely home from school and desperately missing their friends is one thing. A child with a sick parent is another – especially if that sickness is COVID-19. It can feel nearly impossible to know what to say to them. Here are ways to answer some of the questions they might ask.

1. Why is _____ in the hospital? 

They may be in the hospital for several reasons (If it’s appropriate, discuss symptoms.) One of the reasons is COVID-19. You’ve probably heard about it from your family, friends, school or the news. COVID-19 is a new illness spread by germs. It sometimes seems like a cold or the flu, but it’s different, and we are still learning about it. Most people with it get better, but some get very sick and need to visit the hospital.

2. When is _____ coming home? 

They will come home when they are well enough, but they may still need to be away from people for a while. This is to keep from spreading the germ to more people. The current rule is two weeks and when symptoms such as cough and fever are better.

3. Is _____ going to die?

(The child may associate hospitalization with death from previous experience or may be hearing about COVID-19 deaths in the media. If the patient is not terminally ill, reassure the child the hospital staff is helping the patient feel better. If the patient is potentially terminally ill, prepare the child for this.) We hope not. The nurses and doctors will do everything they can to help them get better.

4. Will I catch it?

We do not know who will get sick and who will stay healthy, but we know a few things that can help. You can help us by washing your hands, covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoiding touching your face and staying only with family members who are well. To keep everyone as safe as possible, schools and other public places are closed. The hospital workers are also wearing special outfits to protect themselves and others.

5. What will they do to _____ in the hospital?

There is not medicine or a cure for COVID-19. Instead, the doctors and nurses will do everything they can to make _____ feel better. Some of these things might be medicines for their symptoms, special tests, oxygen and lots of rest. _____ has a bed and bathroom in their room and gets food delivered to them. Suggest making get-well pictures to show on video or having set phone calls, if possible. 

6. Who will take care of me while they are gone?

With schools closed and gatherings not permitted, arrangements may look different than normal. The important thing is to inform the child of who and what to expect and to keep things as normal as possible. Ex: _____ will help you with your schooling during the day and _____ will stay with you overnight.

Kelsey Mora is a certified child life specialist and licensed professional counselor at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

Some of this content has been adapted from Kids Worry Too™ developed by the Nebraska Medical Center.

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About the Author

Kelsey Mora
Kelsey Mora

Kelsey Mora MA, CCLS, LPC is a certified child life specialist in the in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. Kelsey is originally from Omaha, Neb. and is a great asset to Spanish speaking children and families because she is also bilingual.