Chapter 1: Should children visit the ICU?
Responding to questions
““When she was at home my mom said I gave her a headache when I was too loud. What if I make too much noise in her room; will I hurt her even more”? - 8-year-old
Responding to children’s questions honestly and in a way they understand will lessen their anxiety and build trust that they are valued and will be included.
Each of the following boxes represents a common and crucial question a child often has but may not ask. Click on each box for information to help address the question.
"Can I catch it"?
Explain that injuries and dying aren’t contagious. When the illness isn’t contagious, reassure the child that they can’t catch it. Name the illness and explain that people don’t catch it like a cold or flu. If the illness is contagious, let them know how it is spread and what precautions are being taken.
"What if I don't know what to say or do"?
This question is common for kids and adults. Reassure the child that it’s alright not to know what to say or do. Make a list together of things they could say, such as, “I miss you,” or “I’m glad I got to see you”.
"Can I hurt them"?
Reassure them that nothing they do will make the person die faster. Show them how to navigate the medical equipment and what they can and can’t touch so that they can be close to or touch the person without disturbing their care.
"Can I/you cure it"?
Reassure children that there are people all over the world trying to find ways to cure different illnesses and injuries, but that this illness or injury is too strong for any medicine that has been found. Assure them that it is not their responsibility to try to cure the disease.
"Did I cause it"?
Let the child know that the illness or injury wasn’t caused by something they did or didn’t do or say, their thoughts or feelings. In the case of illness, reassure them that although we still don’t know exactly why some people get sick and others don’t, we do know that the child is not to blame.
Suggest different ways a child can interact with the patient. Depending on their age, they can:
- Bring something from home to show or to give to the patient.
- Bring a favourite stuffed animal or comfort object with them.
- Choose music.
- Hold hands.
- Talk about their day.
- Do activities like homework, colouring, or video games.
- Paint fingers and toenails.
- Apply moisturizer to arms and legs.
If the relationship is physically close, consider helping the child or youth maintain that closeness as much as the dying person is able. For example, encourage the child to sit quietly close to the patient while patient rests their hand (or strokes) child’s head, hand or arm; encourage child to link fingers with patient’s hand or if the child is small (and the patient able), allow child to take a short rest next to the patient.