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The Emotional Impact of PICCs: A Guide for Parents and Children

A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC line), is a valuable tool in your child’s medical care. This thin, flexible tube delivers important medications, fluids and nutrients. 

While a PICC can significantly aid your child’s treatment and recovery, it also brings certain lifestyle adjustments. These changes can impact your and your child’s emotional well-being and mental health. 

Wendy Pauker, associate director of Child Life with Banner Children’s at Thunderbird, helps address some of the potential challenges and emotions that may arise and provides suggestions for coping strategies and seeking support.

The emotional impact on parents

Caring for a child with a PICC can bring about many emotions, feelings and added stress. 

You may experience:

  • Emotional stress: As a parent, you may experience worry, anxiety or helplessness regarding your child’s medical condition and the PICC. 
  • Caregiver fatigue: Parents often take on additional caregiving responsibilities related to the PICC, such as daily care and maintenance. 

“Managing your child’s medical needs and the demands of daily life can be challenging and exhausting – both physically and emotionally,” Pauker said.

The emotional impact on children

In addition, having a PICC can bring about many emotions, feelings and stressors for your child. 

Your child may experience:

  • Fear and anxiety: “Your child may feel scared or anxious about the PICC procedure, its presence or any restrictions it may impose,” Pauker said.
  • Discomfort or pain: Your child may experience some discomfort or pain where the catheter is placed.
  • Body image concerns: Older children or teens may feel self-conscious about having a visible PICC. 
  • Social issues: “Your child may face questions or curiosity from peers about their PICC.” Pauker said. “They may feel left out due to not being able to participate in certain activities.”

Pauker shares the following tips to help you and your child cope with the potential challenges and emotions of having a PICC.

Tips for parents

  • Seek information and support: Stay informed about the PICC, its care and any potential complications your child may face. Ask your child’s health care team for guidance and ask questions to alleviate concerns. “Locate online communities or local support groups for parents of children with medical conditions,” Pauker said. “Your child’s child life team can provide support as well.”
  • Communicate openly: Encourage open and honest conversations with your child about their catheter and its purpose. “Use age-appropriate language to explain why the PICC is needed and how it will help them feel better,” Pauker said.
  • Be empathetic: Understand that having a PICC can be scary and uncomfortable for your child. Validate their feelings and let them know that feeling worried or anxious is normal.
  • Offer reassurance: Provide reassurance that the catheter is temporary and will be removed once it’s no longer needed. “Emphasize the benefits of having the PICC line, such as receiving necessary medications or treatments,” Pauker said.
  • Involve your child: Depending on your child’s age and maturity, involve them in caring for their PICC when appropriate. They may be able to help with tasks like changing dressings or keeping the area clean.
  • Address body image concerns: Explore ways to address their concerns, such as using fashionable PICC covers or clothing options that help your child feel comfortable and confident. 
    Manage limitations: Help your child find alternative activities that they can enjoy during this time. Engage in age-appropriate hobbies, games or creative outlets that keep their spirits high. “Consider involving the school or childcare in creating awareness and fostering understanding among your child’s peers,” Pauker said.
  • Make time for yourself: Prioritize self-care and seek help from others to share the caregiving load and ease your burden. Establish a routine and plan to minimize stress to ensure your child’s needs are met.
  • Celebrate milestones and successes: Acknowledge and celebrate small victories and milestones along the way. Keep a positive outlook and encourage your child’s resilience and strength. 

Tips for kids 

  • Express your feelings: It’s OK to feel scared and upset about the catheter. Talk to your parent(s) or a trusted adult about how you feel so they can support you.
  • Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask if you have any questions about your PICC or the treatments you’ll receive. Understanding what’s happening can help you feel less worried.
  • Focus on the positive: Remember, the PICC is helping you get better. “Focus on the things you can still enjoy, like spending time with friends, playing games or doing activities you love,” Pauker said.
  • Take care of yourself: Follow your health care team’s instructions for taking care of your PICC. This will help it work well and keep you safe.
  • Share with friends: If you feel comfortable, you can also talk to your friends about the PICC. They might have questions, and that’s OK. Your true friends will understand and support you.


Having a PICC can be a challenging experience for both parents and children. It’s normal to have fears and concerns, but there are coping strategies and resources available to help you navigate this journey.

Reach out to your child’s health care team or child life specialist, support groups and loved ones to ensure you and your child receive the emotional support needed during this time.

Together, you can make this time a little less overwhelming and much more manageable. 

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