Childhood Cancer

Your Child in the Hospital

Parents’ reactions

Most parents experience a range of emotional and physical reactions to their child’s serious illness or injury. Over time, many parents find unexpected reserves of strength and ask for help from their friends and family when they need it. They realize that family members’ needs change during stressful times and they alter their expectations and parenting accordingly. But, it isn’t easy. Following are common reactions to a child’s serious illness or injury.

Illness. Parents watching over children in the hospital often fail to eat and sleep. They become so focused on their child’s health that they neglect their own. Plus, hospitals are full of germs. So it’s not surprising that parents of children in the hospital often become ill themselves.

I lost thirty-five pounds in the first six weeks of my son’s hospitalization. I had almost constant diarrhea and vomited frequently. After that first six weeks, I was able to worry less, eat more, and even laugh occasionally.

Confusion and numbness. When a child is injured or very ill, parents often experience shock, followed by confusion and numbness. This is a normal reaction: the mind tries to block out painful information. The confusion will pass, but parents may need to take extra time to jot down information that they normally wouldn’t have trouble remembering.

Feelings of helplessness. A hospital has a routine of its own: every staff member has defined tasks and clear duties, but parents may feel helpless. Many parents say they feel more powerful when they establish a new routine and begin helping their child cope.

Anger. Anger is a typical response to a child’s serious illness or injury. Sometimes parents vent their anger on hospital staff or their family and friends. To cope with anger, parents should learn healthy ways to manage feelings, such as talking with friends, exercising, writing in a journal, or seeking counseling.

Sadness and grief. Even when the child is expected to recover fully, parents may experience sadness and grief about their child’s trauma. This is normal.

Hope. Hope is the belief in a better tomorrow. It sustains the will to live and gives the strength to endure each trial. Cultivating a hopeful attitude will help you cope with your child’s extended hospitalization—one day at a time.

I’m a controlled person. My four-year-old needed me to show I was upset, too. One day, after a blood draw, she yelled at me all the way to the car saying, “You just want them to hurt me; you don’t love me; why do you take me to get hurt?” I sat in the car and burst into tears. I told her bringing her to the hospital so many times was the hardest thing I’d ever done. That I wished it was me who was sick, not her. That I loved her so much and wanted to protect her from hurt, but I couldn’t. I told her that she would get better, but we just had to get through the hard treatments. She looked at me, patted me on the arm, and said, “It’s okay now, Mom, let’s just go home.”