Receiving a Serious Diagnosis for Your Child: How to Move Through It

As a social worker in the Cincinnati Fetal Center, I help families process and move through a serious diagnosis that they have received for their baby.

Receiving news that your child is sick is heartbreaking. Families often feel like they’ve lost everything they were dreaming of, and are faced with difficult decisions. It can be emotionally stressful for families as they move through the grieving process of losing what they had hoped for.

I try to help them move through it so that they can be as prepared as possible for each step that lies ahead. It is not an easy or simple process, but here are a few steps that may help:

6 Steps to Help Move Through A Serious Diagnosis for Your Child

 

1. Find a non-medical professional for support

Whether it’s a social worker, a chaplain, child life specialist, palliative care, or all of the above, I recommend that families find a safe place to talk and ask questions. We’re here to provide a service that’s very different than a nurse or a doctor. We provide emotional, spiritual, holistic care to help guide you through the diagnosis. It’s very important for families to have their feelings validated and we can provide that outlet.

2. Find another family who’s been through a similar diagnosis

Ask the team to match you with another family who has walked in your shoes. This is invaluable to parents, as it will help you feel less alone. It may help give you the hope, strength and courage to move through it.

3. Find reputable medical information

Fortunately and unfortunately, the internet is everywhere. When parents first receive a diagnosis for their child, they will often Google it right there in the doctor’s office. The internet is a scary place and it’s not always accurate. We guide our patients to reputable websites so that they have factual information to begin with. This can significantly change how families cope.

4. Ask for Help From Family and Friends

I get it, this is a difficult one. If something serious was going on with me, I would feel like I was putting people out. But the thing is, your friends and family want to help. They just need to be told how. If you need someone to go to your appointment with you for support, ask. Tell them that they don’t have to say anything, just sit by your side. Ask them to do your laundry. Or pick up groceries. Cook meals. Mow your lawn. Pick up your other children from school. Anything that can help your household continue to function so that your family can dedicate the time and energy to your child.

5. Acknowledge that everyone grieves differently

I see different family members getting to the same place, but walking different roads to get there. Acknowledging that this difference exists and normalizing it can be incredibly helpful. The biggest variance I’ve noticed is between men and women. Typically women want to talk it out more than men do, as a way to process their feelings. Often men want to be strong for their partner.

6. Consider professional counseling

Some families are open to professional counseling, and others aren’t. I always offer it in addition to the services we provide because having another professional outlet to talk about your feelings can be an invaluable way to move through your child’s diagnosis. Crying easily, withdrawing from friends, and not having an interest in things you would have before may be signs of depression. Support from professionals can help.

Lastly, it’s important for parents to hear that it’s not their fault. More often than not, parents have done nothing to cause their child’s medical condition. Accepting this, along with the steps above, can significantly help parents move through their child’s diagnosis.

 

Erin Hillman, LSW

About the Author: Erin Hillman, LSW

Erin Hillman, LSW, has been a social worker for Cincinnati Children’s for eight years.  Erin provides social work services to families who visit the Cincinnati Fetal Center.

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