Receiving “Bad News” from the Doctor

bad news

“My child has not been feeling well and from the looks of it, it’s probably something serious. This will affect my whole family in ways I cannot imagine. I have an appointment with the pediatrician, what can I ask?”

Be sure to read the article “Talking with Your Child’s Doctor” and if the news is bad…if it is a complicated or serious illnesses, there are a few additional things to consider and ask your doctor:

  1.  Your doctor and you may want another opinion. Ask your child’s doctor “what other resources are available to me locally?” A good doctor will respect your diligence and responsibility. We want you to feel confident that you are doing all that you can to best care for your child.
  2.  Don’t go at this alone. Remember when a child is diagnosed with an illness, especially a serious one, the entire family’s life is affected by the diagnosis and treatment. Ask your child’s doctor to recommend additional family support that may be available in your community. If it is too difficult for you to make contact yourself, perhaps your doctor can contact a local counseling practice or church on your behalf. You will need to sign written permission for him/her to make contact for you.
  3.  Ask the doctor if your family will have a social worker assigned to help you sort out what resources are available to you and your family. Once a social worker is assigned, they will become your advocate in accessing additional support. Until then, be diligent with your doctor. Don’t be afraid to let him or her know what you need even if they seem busy!
  4.  Remember your other children and be aware that often siblings suffer in silence. They feel guilty or selfish asking for help for themselves when their brother or sister is ill and their parents are already worried and stressed. Don’t be afraid to talk to them about their brother or sister’s illness. You’ll find a great deal of information about siblings and family issues on this site.
  5.  Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet or in the newspaper – there is lot of bad and/or inaccurate information out there. If you want to do more research on your child’s diagnosis, ask your child’s doctor to recommend reputable and credible websites. The American Academy of Pediatric’s website ( is a wonderful resource. Your child’s doctor can also help with interpreting information you come across on the Internet, so print it out and bring it along on your next visit.
  6.  Remember as a parent you know your child best. You can often read your child’s face, gauge their emotions and anticipate their responses. This is valuable information for the doctor to have when treating your child.
Article contributed by Dr. Michelle Simon, MD, PhD
Pediatric Group of Watsonville, CA and Fellow, American Academy of Pediatrics
Children’s Hospice & Palliative Care Coalition