Going to the hospital can be a stressful time for your child
and your whole family. As parents, you know your child best and
are the most qualified to prepare him or her for the hospital.
Being well prepared will make it easier for the whole family.
This information will help your child have a positive hospital
How to prepare yourself
It's normal for you to feel anxious about having your child in
the hospital. It's also normal for your child to notice your anxiety
it can make him more frightened. Even infants can sense
their parents' anxiety and become irritable.
You're the best person to help your child during his hospital
visit, so it's important for you to be relaxed. Share your feelings
with a family member or a friend, become informed about the hospitalization,
and prepare yourself for it. Taking care of yourself and staying
calm will help your child stay calm.
Get answers to all your medical questions
Knowing what may happen in the hospital helps you feel more comfortable
and in control. Write down all the questions you have, including
any your child has but you can't answer. Go through the list with
your child's doctor and nurse until you're comfortable with the
Plan ahead for the hospital visit
Planning ahead for the changes in your family's routine will
help you be less anxious while your child is in the hospital.
Catch up on your bills, stock up on groceries, and cook and freeze
meals ahead of time in case the hospital stay is extended. Ask
family members and friends to help out.
What children fear
At the hospital, your child will meet a lot of people and be
exposed to a new environment filled with unfamiliar sights, sounds,
and smells. He wonders and worries about what is going to happen,
if it will hurt, and if you will stay with him.
While hospitalized, your child's daily home routines of eating,
sleeping, and playing are disrupted. This makes a stay in the
hospital very frightening.
Children under five are most concerned with being separated from
their parents and being abandoned in a strange environment. School
age children worry about their bodies not working right and not
being like the other kids. They don't understand why things that
hurt (like having a shot) can help them get well. Some children
think that going to the hospital is a punishment for doing something
bad. They may not understand why what is wrong can't be fixed
at home or the doctor's office. Teenagers have different concerns,
such as lack of privacy, loss of control, and fear of looking
different or disfigured.
How parents can help
- Take a hospital tour The Pediatric Unit offers
individual and group hospital tours to familiarize children
(and their parents) with the hospital environment. Call the
Pediatric Clinical Nurse Specialist (434-8639) to arrange a
hospital tour. Younger children can participate in "medical
play" where they can see and touch real equipment they'll
see in the hospital.
- Talk about it Talk to your child and family
about going to the hospital. For a young child, it's best to
talk about the hospital stay only a few days ahead of time.
Older children may need more time to think about issues. Reading
books about hospitals can help. (Your library and local bookstore
carry books and coloring books about going to the hospital.)
Even if your child is young, talking about the pictures can
help. Tell your child that the doctors and nurses work to make
her better. Reassure her that she'll come home as soon as she
- Play with your child Play with your child using
toy medical kits. As he explores medical activities with a doll
or stuffed animal, talk about what he's doing and feeling. This
will help you find out what kinds of misconceptions he has,
and it will give you an opportunity to clear them up.
- Always tell the truth Always be honest. Your
child will lose trust if you don't tell the truth. Even if it
seems hard, always tell him if something is going to hurt. Explain
that even if something hurts or is uncomfortable, it will help
him get better.
- Stay with your child Being separated from you
during this stressful time is hard for your child. We encourage
you or a family member to stay with your child as much as possible.
We provide sleeping accommodations in your child's room during
his stay. If there are times when you have to leave your child,
always tell your child when and where you have to go and when
you will be back. Never try to slip away unnoticed. If you can't
be back when promised, call to let him and the staff know. Photos
of your family can help your child, or leave a special object
of yours with child.
- Reassure your child Reassure your child that
he is not in the hospital because he did something wrong. Explain
to him that he is in the hospital to get better so he can go
home again. Reassure him that the hospital staff are not there
to hurt him.
- Bring familiar items from home Bring in favorite
toys, blankets, music tapes, and books from home to give your
child something to play with that reminds her of home. Always
clearly label anything you bring in from home with your child's
last name. Please do not bring in latex (rubber) balloons for
your child. This type of balloon can be a choking hazard for
your child and other hospitalized children foil (mylar)
balloons are fine. Your child may bring her favorite pajamas.
- Get involved You're the best person to care
for, comfort, and speak for your child. Talk with the nurses
about how you can take part in his care. You may be able to
feed him, give him baths, or change his bandages.
- It's okay to cry It's normal for children to
cry when something hurts. Reassure your child that she does
not have to "be brave" or be "a big girl."
Talk with your child about different ways she can cope with
uncomfortable things. For example, you can say, "Do you
want to look the other way and hold my hand?" or "Let's
count to ten." Always reassure your child that she did
a good job.
- Hold your child - Hold and talk to your baby
as much as possible during his hospital visit. If your child
has an IV (intravenous line) or many tubes, the nurse will help
you so you can hold your baby comfortably and safety.
Children may have changes in their behavior before, during, and
after a hospital stay. Many act younger than their age or may
regress in behavior such as bed wetting or wanting a bottle again.
Others don't want to eat, are whiny, or want you to hold them
all the time. These are normal reactions and usually go away with
time. Letting your child express his feeling through play, reading
books about hospitals and talking about the hospital experience
While in the hospital and later at home, it's often easy to let
your child do things that he would not normally be allowed to
do. Children need consistent rules so they know what to expect.
Talk with your nurse to figure out the best way to continue to
set rules both in and out of the hospital.
A final note
Although a hospital stay can be difficult, it can also be a growing
time for your family. Your experience can also help others. Please
write the hospital when you get home and tell us what went well
and what we could do better.
Reference: Association for the Care
of Childrens Health
From the Parent/Patient Education Series
Holmes Regional Medical Center Pediatric Services
Peds: Pt Ed 1. Reviewed 4/98, 4/99, 6/00.