5 Top Tips to Help Parents, Help You

Paediatric nurses are magicians.

For one, they are incredibly skillful clinicians. 

They can calculate fluids and medications in their sleep.

They can anticipate respiratory distress like no other.

They teach, encourage, and direct new Residents at the start of their first paediatric rotation.

On the other hand, they also know how to convince a cranky toddler to drink their medication whilst listening to (and mimicking) puppies, frogs, and cows inside a chest during auscultation. 

But one huge part of Paediatric nursing that is often overlooked is their ability to educate and empower that little person’s parent or carer.

Educate and Empower

Paediatric nurses have the unique opportunity to educate and empower parents through helping them understand about symptoms of sickness in children. Taking the time to teach them about the differences between normal and abnormal symptoms of sickness in children will save you a LOT of time in the future. You can reduce their fear through providing knowledge.

Ok, so this all sounds well and good, but what happens when you come across a sleep deprived, frightened and anxious parent? You get tension, miscommunication and an offside ally that you desperately need on your team. Quite often, a “cranky” parent is a frightened or confused parent — and once that parent is “offside” you’re going to have to work three times as hard to convince your little patient to trust you. That really is a battle you don’t want to fight — you NEED parents on your side.

So, here are my 5 tips to help parents, help you.


Yes, you read that right!

Ignore any passed-on opinions and feelings you receive in handover about your patients and/or parents.

Start your shift fresh without bias, prejudice, or judgment.

Lots of information is given in handover — clinical updates, plan of care, health conditions, and any relevant social details. These are all critical for you to start your shift with background information and preparedness to provide high-quality care. However, it is only natural for some information to be presented subjectively and have the potential to impact your approach and/or delivery of care.

Remember, nurses have bad shifts too.

You’d hate to steer clear of a parent to avoid conflict because they were a “grumpy” when in fact your colleague was the grumpy one because they didn’t get a break AND they also spilt the last of their favourite coffee.

2. Introduce yourself

As soon as you first meet your patient and their parent(s), be sure to introduce yourself.

Ask one, or all, of these questions early on: 

  • What are you hoping will happen to your little one?
  • Do you have any unanswered questions?
  • Do you know what the plan is for your child?
  • Are there any results that you are waiting for?
  • Is there anything I can get for you?

The whole point of asking these questions is to open up the channels of communication between you and the parent. You want to empower parents and be 100% involved in the care of their child. You NEED them to understand the care plan, to be confident in delivering care at home, and to be able to recognise why they became unwell so that they are confident in handling it if it happens again in the future.

Also, you want these instrumental people to trust you, and to speak openly about their worries, concerns, and apprehensions. You can avoid conflict or unnecessary miscommunication early on by asking them these questions early. Don’t forget you are in a position of power. These parents are in an unfamiliar environment, and they are trusting health professionals to make the right decisions for their child. You want to include them in this decision making process, and the only way to do this is to ask these questions.

3. Communicate with your patient

Regardless of their age, there are always ways to commuicate in an age- or developmentally appropriate manner.

Play with them.

Interact with them. 

Smile at them.

Be silly with them.

Give them the opportunity to have some interaction without any clinical intervention at all.

Include the parents in this interaction. Ask them what the child likes, what they dislike, what they are the most worried about in hospital. Take two minutes out of your morning to set yourself up for success. Don’t just dive straight in with something clinical like giving a medication — rather, take the time to get to know them and build a relationship with them. 

We all know the benefits of building rapport in nursing, but in Paediatric nursing, this rapport needs to be built with parents and carers too. By asking the parent how their child has been responding to nursing care so far will show that you respect their child AND you respect their parenting involvement. 

Remember, parents are obsessed with their littles. You showing interest in, caring for, and playing with their little love will make them want to help you.

4. Ask them if they have had a coffee or a break.

This is a simple but really effective one. Offering even just five minutes of your time to take a shower or get a coffee will help them reset and be incredibly more resilient and accepting of the rollercoaster that is hospital. Help them meet their basic needs and as a result, make your shift a whole lot easier. A little empathy goes a long way.

5. Communicate, educate, and empathise. 

Keep updating parents.

Take the time to really explain something. 

Don’t assume parents know what you are talking about. 

Ask them if they understand, or would like any more information. 

Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know.

Offer suggestions of questions to ask the team if they are really unsure. 

Sometimes when you ask “do you have any questions” you will be met with a blank stare, or a shrug. They are trusting us to provide them with all the information and education that they need, not have to think of all of the questions.

Side note: Don’t forget, it is MORE than acceptable to say you don’t know. It’s easier, more trustworthy and safer to say “I’m not sure, but I’ll find someone that does know” 

I am not naive enough to know that all of this is not always possible. We all know that shifts get ridiculously busy at the drop of a hat (or the flick of boiled kettle perhaps?!). The hours disappear into one another and sometimes you are just trying to keep your head above water. Also, to be honest, sometimes a coffee break is more important to maintain your own emotional resilience than it is to dive into yet another explanation about why those blood results aren’t back yet.

But just try to approach your family centred care with an empathetic mindset, rather than a defensive one. Remember, parents of sick children are sleep deprived, probably terrified out of their minds and really concerned about other kids at home or missing time off work. A little empathy, an understanding smile, effective communication of what is happening or a plate of toast can honestly remove or reduce any potential hostility that may be projecting around the room.

About the Author

Penny is a Paediatric Registered Nurse with a Masters in Nursing. She has over ten years of clinical experience experience ranging from Emergency, NICU, Gen Med and Paediatric Food Allergy research.

She has always had a passion for working with children, but she has grown to love the family-centred care that is unique to Paediatric Nursing. As a Mum to two young boys, she knows first hand that when a child is sick it impacts the family unit dramatically.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many guarantees in parenting, but you can be sure our little ones will get sick from time to time – especially in their first few years of life. We also live in a society full of instant information, and it’s hard to work out what is supported by substantiated evidence. Penny founded Sick Happens in 2018 to empower, support and reassure parents when caring for their families in moments of sickness. The aim of Sick Happens is to provide education with empathy; delivered in a way that is easily digested and understood.

Head to the Sick Happens website, where you will find numerous resources for parents to become confident and competent in caring for their littles. These resources teach them that sickness is inevitable — Sick Happens! — but they don’t have to be fearful of the what if’s.

Penny hangs out a lot on Instagram @sick.happen — exactly where all the parents of young children are. Here, there is a constant flow of educational posts used to educate and empower parents.