Do This Not That: How to Be There for the Family of a Seriously Ill Child

In 2006, Rich and Traci Maynard watched their daughter receive a heart transplant … and the transplant fail. Their 4-year-old daughter, Erika Kate, died that June. But since then, they’ve established the Erika Kate Foundation to help other families of seriously ill children like Erika financially, spiritually, and emotionally.

Here, the foundations offers some do’s and don’ts for helping families of ill children.

Everyone hears what you say.
Friends listen to what you say.
Best friends listen to what you don’t say.
Author Unknown

Don’t try to “fix” things.
DO offer solutions to small daily challenges: provide rides or entertainment for a sibling, bring a home-cooked meal, shovel snow, etc.
Don’t use cliches or try to compare your past experience to theirs.  Comparisons can minimize the pain they are experiencing.
DO be genuine in your responses and acknowledge that you don’t know what to say but want to listen and care.
Don’t attempt to cheer them up—just be there for them.  Be as supportive as you can.
DO be willing to just sit in silence. Show your support if they do want visitors.
Don’t scold, give advice, or lecture. There is no right or wrong way to experience this crisis.
DO listen and support them when they share feelings—even when feelings or behaviors seem extreme to you.
Don’t forget that their challenges may continue for weeks, months, or years past the initial crisis/diagnosis.  The experiences of families who are not in the hospital are often very challenging.
DO pray for your friend.  Prayer is a great source of encouragement and comfort.
Don’t avoid asking about the child because the answer might be difficult.  Yet, don’t probe for lots of specific information.
DO volunteer to make it possible for a parent to have alone time or date time with their spouse.
DO organize an activity in which the family can participate in order to have a break/smile.
DO give blood or become an organ donor in the child’s honor.
DO something.  Don’t wait for them to ask for a favor.