Accompanying children whose loved one is in intensive care

If the children feel the need, and if the department allows it, you can bring them along on a visit to the patient. This visit will allow them to better understand the situation, to let go certain imaginary anxieties, and also to prepare themselves for the post critical care period, whatever the outcome: preparing for a death is an important step in order to mourn as well aspossible, but understanding the seriousness of the situation will also allow them to prepare for a long rehabilitation, great fatigue or after-effects in their loved one and thus soften the transition. It is important that you discuss this first with the health care team and that precautions are taken to allow the child to prepare for what he or she is going to see in order to limit the shock and make it a really helpful stage. The psychologists on the intensive care units are a valuable resource for supervising these visits and helping the children to express their feelings.

During their parent's stay in intensive care

Here are some tips to help children deal with this difficult time:

– Explain the situation to the child in words he/she can understand, be honest while being reassuring
– Try to maintain daily routines as much as possible;
– Notify school and after-school organizations that a loved one is in recovery;
– It may be important for the child to have an adult outside the family unit to talk to, so that he or she can express him or herself without feeling that he or she is adding stress or sadness to the parents;
– Providing a space for the child to express himself or herself so that he or she can verbalize or draw what he or she understands about the situation and how he or she feels will give you the opportunity to adjust things;
– As with adults, support from a trained professional (e.g. psychologist) may be useful if the situation is difficult for the child to manage

Identify if a child is suffering

Identifying symptoms of stress or psychological distress in a child: : 

There are three common ways of expressing stress or psychological distress in children:

  • Irritability: impulsivity, aggressiveness, loss of patience and tolerance, anger.
  • Sadness: isolation and withdrawal, tears, lack of energy. Regression can also be a sign.
  • Anxiety: the child may appear hypervigilant to his environment. Painful symptoms may appear: headaches, stomach aches, diarrhea.

What to do? 

  • Measure the intensity, frequency and evolution of symptoms.
  • Reassure by reinforcing routine and day-to-day planning.
  • Encourage listening and verbalization of emotions.
  • Suggest relaxing activities.
  • Encourage relaxation through physical activity and sport.
  • Do not hesitate to consult a health professional: general practitioner, paediatrician, psychologist, etc.