When children have a loved one in intensive care

What you can tell a child who has a parent or close family member in the intensive care unit (ICU) will depend on the child’s age and why the person needs that level of care.

When someone important to your child is receiving intensive care at either Fiona Stanley Hospital or Rockingham General Hospital (external site), the following advice can help them manage the situation:

  • Try to keep to their routine as much as possible.
  • Explaining the situation honestly. If you don’t know what is going to happen, try to say something they can understand to help the child feel secure and reassured. For example, “Daddy is very ill but the doctors are doing all they can to help him”.
  • Tell schools and other relevant groups that a parent or close family member is in intensive care.
  • Encouraging the child to keep a diary. They may wish to write a brief description each day and add pictures or drawings. This helps children understand what is happening and makes it easier for them to talk to the loved one about what happened in their life while that person was in hospital.

Bringing children to visit in the ICU

There are a number of issues to think about before bringing children to visit a parent or close family member in ICU.

Always check with ICU staff before bringing children to the unit.

Prepare the child for what they might see, including what the many machines do, their sounds, and how their loved one may look.

Children with family members in the Rockingham General Hospital ICU receive care packs thanks to an ongoing partnership with the Intensive Care Foundation WA. These care packs provide comfort and clarity and include a stuffed toy sheep and a comic book using superheroes as characters to explain what goes on in ICU.

Supporting children once a loved one leaves the ICU

Once their loved one has been moved out the ICU, children may need help understanding and dealing with what happened.

This can be a gradual process and may take several months. At times, it may be helpful to mention the loved one’s stay in hospital so the child knows they can talk about it.

It is helpful to let the child ask questions and to ask them how they felt at that time. If the child is very young, they may find it easier to show their feelings by drawing pictures or acting out what happened.

Remember that children can ask very blunt questions, so if your loved one doesn’t feel strong enough to cope with this, ask another family member or friend to talk to the child about their experiences and feelings.

Return to ICU information for family and friends

Button reads ICU family journey

Contact our ICUs

Contact the ICU at Fiona Stanley Hospital or Rockingham General Hospital (external site).