How to Help Families with Kids in Crisis

My last two posts have addressed how to know when to admit your child to psychiatric inpatient care and what to expect once there.  In this post I want to give help and insight to friends and family.  

You may know someone who is going through a very difficult time with their child.  Maybe it is someone who is in the throws of parenting a special needs child.  Maybe it is a parent enduring a hospitalization.  Maybe it is a family whose child just attempted suicide.  Or maybe even it is a family whose child was just arrested.

How can you offer help?  What do these families need?  I have experienced all of the above, as the family in need and as the friend of such a family. 

Here are 6 quick ways you can offer very practical and needful help to these families:

1.  Food:  These families are so exhausted that meal prep can go by the wayside.  OR they are on the road constantly between therapy appointments and family counseling meetings (because they are all after school) that eating out has to become a way of life for a while.  Text them that you are dropping off a meal…don’t necessarily ask (except to check for allergies), just do it!  You can ask them to put a cooler out on their porch and that makes it easy for you to drop off and go.  Don’t forget the ice packs! Send gift cards for those times they are living out of their car in between appointments:  Starbucks, Chipotle, Qdoba, Chick-Fil-A are all favorites of ours.

2.  Gas gift cards:  When our son was living in a residential facility we spent $300/month on gas visiting him and driving him around to all his therapy appointments.  This about broke our budget, but it was necessary and worth it.  Similarly when we have experienced hospitalizations, most locations are across town and the commuting back and forth is draining.  A gift card for gas would be such a relief and bright light to families in crisis.

3.  Financial Gifts:  Did you know that the average special needs family and family with a child struggling with a mental health disorder spends at least $20,000 on that one kiddo per year?  Gas money, insurance, adaptive tools and resources, therapies that are not covered by insurance, testing, co-pays.  Most families are sinking in debt but will not let you know.  How can you help?  Visa gift cards (found at most grocery stores) are a super quick and easy way to help out a family in need.  Or if you feel the gift needs to be anonymous, you can contact your church or financial advisor and ask them to pass the money along.  We have been recipients of these surprising gifts through the years and I cannot tell you how loved and cared for we have felt.

4.  Prayer:  Prayer is powerful!  The prayers of friends and family are visceral. In our darkest hours with our son, I have reached out to friends and family for prayer and a peace that is incomprehensible has come over me.   You will be bonded with this family when you keep them in your prayers. 

5.  Grace and Space:  Grace to let these families out of commitments.  They might not have any energy or attention left to volunteer, show up at family functions, keep up with social engagements.  They may need space to process, space to slow down and breath, space to spend quality time at home.  In my life that meant I had to back out of volunteering at schools and church.

6.  Send words of encouragement.  Text. Send an email.  Drop a note in the mail.  To be honest, when we are in crisis we are not going to answer the phone because we spend most of the day on the phone with our professional care team.  But let us know you are thinking of us – your words might be what carries us through that day.

I am sure you can think of a few other ways to be supportive and helpful that I have forgotten!  Please know that your care for these families is appreciated and much needed.

(1)”I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, (2) with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, (3) eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” ~ Ephesians 4:1-3


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