Information for children

Being a critical care is often a confusing and frightening experience for patients and families. We hope that the information here will help support and prepare you and your family.

If someone close to you is seriously unwell it can be really hard to know the best way to help the children in your family. We hope that the following tips may help in this situation.

Having a loved one in critical care means your child will probably already be aware that something is wrong.  Whilst it will be hard for you to tell your child what is happening, it is normally better that they hear this information for the first time from you rather than from someone else. Having said this, our staff can help advise you and be present if you choose.

Sharing this information with children will help them to feel involved and not knowing may make them feel more anxious or confused.

What you say to your child will depend on their age and understanding. Start by letting them know that you have something serious to talk to them about. Tell them in simple words that their loved one is in a special place in the hospital for people who are very seriously unwell called ‘critical care.’ Tell them that the doctors and nurses and medical equipment are to try to make them better.

Children should be encouraged to ask questions. In this way they may guide you with what else they want to know.


  • Giving updates

    Children should be given regular updates when appropriate. It can be reassuring if the child is told that as soon as you know you will tell them. However, as critically ill patient’s conditions can change rapidly you may not want to give them hour-by-hour updates.

    It may be helpful to encourage your child to keep a diary. This may help the child understand what is happening and make it easier for them to talk to their relative about what happened in their own life whilst their relative was in hospital.

    Informing the child’s school is important and the child should be told that it is okay for them to talk to friends, teachers and family about what is happening, unless there is a specific reason not to.

    Try to keep your child’s routine as much as possible whilst their relative is in critical care. It is also important to remember that mixed feelings are normal and that at times they may feel upset, worried, angry, guilty or happy.

    You may need to consider whether your child should visit their parent or close relative in the critical care unit. You should check with the staff before bringing children into the unit and also talk to the child about it before you come in.

    There is a book available on the ICU steps website which may help prepare a child for a visit.

  • Talking to friends and family

    Lastly, it is okay for the child to see that you are upset. It may even be helpful for them seeing you express emotions. However if you feel overwhelmed by your emotions most of the time it may be distressing for the child to see that.

    Try to talk to your friends and family about how you feel and also to members of staff on the critical care unit who may be able to advise you about where to find additional support for yourself and your family during this difficult time.


Children, families and critical care video

Click on the image above to access the video.