Behavioral health conditions

Caregivers: helping children when a family member has been diagnosed with schizophrenia PRINT BACK

When a family member is diagnosed with schizophrenia, familiar routines can change greatly. There may be changes in family priorities. Children may feel uncertain about their role in the family system and their future. However, with proper guidance and support from adults, children can adapt to and cope with their new reality in a healthy manner.

Coping tips for families

Below are some tips on helping children cope on a daily basis.

  • Provide basic information about schizophrenia. This will help dispel myths about the illness. It will also help children prepare answers to questions and comments from their peers. When talking about schizophrenia, encourage questions from children and emphasize the following:
    • The illness is no one’s fault.
    • The illness is not contagious. You cannot catch schizophrenia from others (like a cold).
    • The illness is just like any other medical illness. With proper care, symptoms may improve over time.
    • The illness—not the person—is responsible for the symptoms.
    • It’s normal to feel confused, scared and frustrated when someone in the family has schizophrenia.
  • Get support. Share information with neighbors, teachers, parents, coaches and school— with children’s permission. Aware adults can provide extra support to the child. They may help you identify emotional or physical issues that could require attention. Find support groups for children. 
  • Plan for potential crises. Include all family members (including the ill member) when creating a plan to address worsening symptoms and potential crises. The plan should include phone numbers of adults to contact during these times as well as actions children can take to remain calm.
  • Create “normal” routines for children.
    • Encourage family activities that include the children and the ill family member. Examples include setting the table, playing card games and watching movies.
    • Make sure that in your absence, a responsible adult is available for the children.
    • Allow children to take part in school activities and hobbies outside of the home.
    • Make sure that assigned responsibilities are age-appropriate.
    • Do not forget to praise children for their accomplishments.

Dealing with emotional challenges in children

Emotional upset can be common in children of family members who have schizophrenia. Sometimes children may clearly express sadness, anger and loneliness because their loved one is not able to spend as much time with them. At other times, it may not be so clear. Some signs of potential emotional problems include poor school performance, aggressive behavior, or complaints of aches and pains. Additional support may be useful. Ask about extra guidance and support by contacting school counselors, social workers, community organizations and health care practitioners.

Learn more about schizophrenia

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
National Institute of Mental Health


This article is for your information only. It is not meant to give medical advice. It should not be used to replace a visit with a provider. Magellan does not endorse other resources that may be mentioned here.