10 Gifts to Give a Friend Whose Child Has Cancer or Another Serious Illness
(That’s Not Food)
When a child is diagnosed with a life changing illness or injury, community support is critical. Yet it can be hard to know what to say or what gifts to give a friend whose child has cancer or another severe illness. Meal trains, food delivery and comfort food are all popular and wonderful options. But sometimes it’s good to do something a bit different. After all, there is only so many casseroles a family can eat.
Gifts to Give a Family When a Child is Seriously Ill or Injured
Below is a list of top 10 gifts to give a friend when a child has cancer or another seriously illness or injured. From physical gifts to acts of service, we’ve got you covered. And for more ideas on how to support children with life changing illnesses and injuries, visit the Community Page.
1. Household Necessities
Many people will send food and gifts, but what often gets overlooked are the little things that keep a house running. Toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning products, toothpaste – these are the items that may force a run to the store. For personal items like soap, shampoo, and facial products, it can be helpful to ask about preferred brands or allergies first. Or if you know the family well, you may have seen what is in their cabinets. Other items that a family facing a critical illness or injury may need include hand sanitizer, disposable masks, rubber gloves, packable snacks, and travel size tissues.
2. Comfortable Items for the Hospital
Hospitals are notoriously cold, sterile environments that can be scary for the child and caregiver alike. Cozy clothes and accessories like PJs, socks, robes and blankets can bring a little comfort to what can be a less than welcoming room. And deciding what to wear instead of a hospital gown allows both your friend and their child to regain some sense of control.
Think of (or ask!) what your friend may need and be sure to consider favorite colors, patterns and themes, and their typical size. Or ask a family member who may know them best. Then you can deliver the gift to their home, or have it shipped directly to the hospital to arrive at their room. Typically, you just need to include the child’s name and that they are a patient, but it’s best to check the hospital’s policies first.
3. Regular Check-Ins, Over the Long Haul
Often there is an influx of support at the initial diagnosis and a family can even be overwhelmed by caring friends and family. But for many, treatments can continue for months or even years. After a while, it may feel as if everyone else has moved on with their lives.
True friends are the one who send a text or call to check in on a regular basis, for an extended period of time. One way to accomplish this is to set regular calendar reminders to check in, and note important dates (birthdays, the anniversary of the diagnosis, major surgeries, or scans) whenever you hear about them. Then you’re sure to remember to reach out and see how your friend, and their child, are doing. It will mean more than all the gifts in the world.
4. Gifts for Siblings and Other Family Members
With so much time and attention required to support a child with an illness or injury, it’s easy for other family members to feel overlooked. Even just a card or word of encouragement or empathy for the other children can go a long way. When you bring a gift for the child with cancer or another illness/injury, be sure to bring something for siblings too. And don’t forget the fathers! Often, they are the last ones on the list but they’re struggling too.
5. Practical Gift Cards
When you think about the financial stress of an illness or injury, medical bills may be what first comes to mind. But the constant travel and need to order food or eat out can also be quite a burden, especially if one caregiver needs to stop working. Gift cards for restaurants, grocery and food delivery, or coffee shops near the home or the hospital are a great way to help a family if their child has a serious illness or injury. Gift cards for Amazon, Target, Walmart and other local retailers can also be useful. And don’t forget about the hospital restaurants and cafeteria. Many hospitals have gift cards available for purchase online, typically under the family resource section.
As any parent knows, time is at a premium and it’s hard to get things done with kids around. This is doubly so when one child has a serious illness or injury. Yet childcare and extra help is hard to come by, and often expensive. Plus, caregivers may be hesitant to hire a typical babysitter if their child has complex medical needs. But a trusted friend or relative? Now there may be someone who can help.
Offer to watch the kid/s so your friend can get a break, run errands, or just get a few things around the house done. Should the child have complex medical needs, consider caregiver training. Many hospitals and social services agencies provide trainings for family and community members. This may give your friend peace of mind and you the confidence you need.
If there are multiple children, you can also care for the siblings while the other child goes to treatment or appointments. (Should you care for siblings for an extended period of time, the About Me Sibling Support Form may be a great resource to learn more about their preferences and routine.) Or you can watch the ill or injured child so their siblings can get some much needed one on one time.
Let your friend be the guide on what will be most useful and be sure to provide a few different times you may be available. A general offer to watch the kids “sometime” often leads to nothing as your friend may be hesitant to ask. Be specific and be sure to schedule something right away.
7. Hospital Care Packages
For those staying overnight at the hospital or longer, a care package can be a great way to make their stay a bit more comfortable. Think of things they might need while they’re away from home. Small travel sized items will provide just enough without being a burden. And since days at the hospital can be long and tedious, activities, books and games are a welcome distraction. Below are a few ideas for a hospital care package to get you started.
What to Put in a Hospital Care Package
- Eye mask (sleep mask)
- Portable Sound Machine and/or Ear plugs (hospitals can be noisy places!)
- Books and magazines
- Comfy socks
- A travel blanket or pillow
- Snacks like granola bars, portable fruit and chips
- Personal items like chapstick, hand lotion, tissues and hand sanitizer
- Pen and Journal for personal thoughts, medical notes or doodling
- Activities like a word search, coloring book, deck of cards or travel games
- Bright Cheerful Pillowcase
- Silly putty or fidget toy
- Dollar bills or coins for vending machines
8. Cleaning and Lawn Service
With so much time spent on medical appointments, school runs and errands, household maintenance is likely the last thing a family wants to do. The gift of a cleaning or lawn service can be a godsend. Yes, you can always offer to do it yourself. And often this is very appreciated. But for some, accepting this type of help from a friend can be uncomfortable. It may be easier for them to accept if it is done by a professional.
9. A Break and Some Fun
Life can get very serious, very fast when a child is diagnosed with a life-changing illness or injury. And sometimes what your friend really needs is a break! Offer to take her to do something fun, like get a pedicure, go shopping, or grab coffee. And be sure to talk about things other than their child’s medical needs.
Or if time is an issue, you can drop off something to help them relax and practice self-care. It could be a book or magazine, supplies for a favorite hobby, or even a silly toy. You can also gift non-material things, like a podcast or music playlist, a customized streaming watch list, or even funds for their favorite mobile game. Then follow up to make sure they actually use it, and don’t, as is often the case, put their needs absolutely last.
10. A Listening Ear
While presents, funds and help are always incredibly appreciated, one can’t underestimate the value of a listening ear. It may be one of most valuable gifts to give a friend whose child has cancer or another illness! They are going through a lot of change, and not the good kind at that. They likely need someone to just listen, help them process it, and allow them to feel whatever they feel.
Call, visit or text your friend to check in and provide an open, safe place for them to talk about whatever they want. Then truly, truly listen. The best listeners allow silence, room for thought and reflect back what they’ve heard. Your friend is not looking for medical advice. Or a story of someone you know who found a miraculous cure. Mostly, they just need to be heard.
Want more ways to help children and their families cope with life-changing illnesses and injuries? Visit us a CaseforSmiles.org to get involved today!