Your child has a scary diagnosis. Now what?

Learning your child is seriously ill is one of the worst things that can happen to any parent. We’re here to help you cope.


As parents, our first instinct is to protect our kids. Finding out you’re not always able to do so isn’t just a shock – it can feel like a failure, compounding the feelings of grief that you’re already experiencing. At the same time, you’re well aware that the whole family is looking to you to be strong, now more than ever.

Here’s how to get through this seemingly impossible time:

Accept your grief

Lisa Burger, a social worker in private practice and a member of the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice, points out that you’re experiencing a loss; the loss of your hopes for your child’s health. Allow yourself to journey through the grieving process. “Be aware that you’ll go through the same stages of grief that follow a death: denial and isolation; anger; bargaining; depression and acceptance. If the diagnosis comes as a surprise, you’ll have the additional strain of trauma added to this difficult mix of emotions.”

ALSO SEE: 5 ways to prepare your child for a hospital visit 

Arm yourself with knowledge

Find out as much as you can about the disease you’re now facing. This will help you understand the journey you’re about to take – but remember that Dr Google is not the best source of information. Instead, find a specialist you like and feel comfortable with, and ask the important questions: What can you expect from the treatment programme? Will the disease and its treatment have any effects on your child’s development? What can be expected post-recovery?

Reach out

Although your instinct may be to lock yourself away until you have no more tears left to cry, you may find that the opposite is far more helpful. Lisa recommends reaching out to your support network. In addition to friends and family, you may find that it helps to find a support group so that you can connect with parents travelling a similar journey.

ALSO SEE: Help! My child’s got to have an anaesthetic

Put self-care first

Although you have probably retreated into survival mode, Lisa warns that you can only get through this if your bucket is full. So, even if it feels strange and self-indulgent to book a manicure, do it. Go running, if that’s your favourite release, or watch a movie. And above all, make sure that you are eating and sleeping properly. Call on friends (who will be only too happy to help) if you need a hand with chores, and stock up on frozen foods so that a hot meal is only ever a microwave minute away.

More about the expert:
Lisa Burger is a social worker in private practice and member of the South African Association of Social Workers in Private Practice. Find out more about Lisa Burger here. 

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