We know that going to the hospital is a big event for you and your child. Talking together about their hospital stay ahead of time may help them feel less afraid. Remember, your experience with hospitals may be very different than what your child will experience.
Seattle Children's has a variety of resources to help you talk to your child about his hospital stay. Call the Family Resource Center, your community doctor or the Children's clinic that referred your child for admission to get the information you need.
You might find the following resources to be helpful before your child's hospital stay.
You are welcome to come to the Family Resource Center (level 7, in the River zone by the Frog elevators) and check out books. In addition to the titles below, you can cal 206-987-2201 and request a copy of our recommended book list.
- Preschool: Franklin Goes to the Hospital
Paulette Bourgeois, Scholastic Paperbacks, 2000.
- Preschool to Third Grade: When You're Sick or in the Hospital: Healing Help for Kids
Tom McGrath, Abbey Press, 2002.
- Third to Sixth Grade: Everything You Need to Know About Staying in the Hospital
Patricia J. Murphy, Rosen Publishing Group, 2000.
- Seventh Grade and Up: Coping with a Hospital Stay
Sharon Carter, Rosen Publishing Group, 2002.
- Adult: Your Child in the Hospital: A Practical Guide for Parents
Nancy Keene and Rachel Prentice, Patient Centered Guides, 1999.
Here are more resources and books (PDF) on how to prepare children of all ages for surgery or a hospital stay.
Tips on Preparing Your Child
Here are some tips to help your child feel safer about their upcoming stay:
- Listen to your child.
- Be honest about what will happen and what may hurt.
- Use short, simple terms your child knows.
- Reassure your child that if something hurts, there are ways to help ease the pain, including medicine, relaxation, listening to music and playing games.
- Use one of your child’s stuffed animals to show what will happen and encourage them to ask questions and talk about their fears.
- Reassure your child that you will be with them as much as you can.
- If your child seems uneasy talking about the hospital, stop and try again later.
- Reassure your child that having to go to the hospital does not mean they have done something wrong.
- Encourage your child to bring toys or activities from home to play with during waiting times.
Helping Children of Different Ages
A child understands things based on their age and developmental level. You probably have many ideas of your own. Here are some of ours that you might also find helpful.
Infants and toddlers
Infants and toddlers need to have familiar objects around them at the hospital. Bring along your child's favorite toy, blanket or other comfort item.
As children get older, you can talk with them about going to the hospital and about what will happen while they're there. It is important to let them express their feelings.
Saying "I'll bet you're wondering what it's going to be like at the hospital, aren't you?" rather than "How do you feel?" will encourage your child to talk.
Let your child be the doctor to a doll or stuffed toy. They can "operate" on it, give it "shots" or just apply a Band-Aid. Your child might express their feelings more clearly while they’re playing than if you ask them directly.
Reassure your child that you'll stay with them when you can and that other people will take care of them if you can't be there.
Many suggestions for younger children are helpful with this age group as well. However, these children understand more than younger children and will ask more questions.
Explain that the hospital treats children of all ages, with many different medical problems. It's important to explain that doctors, nurses and other people at the hospital will do certain tests and procedures to find out what's making your child ill or to help make them feel better.
Teenagers are able to understand more information about their illness and treatment. They may, however, be reluctant to ask questions about things they don't understand. Encourage your teenager to talk to their doctors and nurses about their condition.
Be sure your child is included in discussions and decisions about their care so that they will feel independent and more in control. Your teen may be worried about their privacy, so reassure them that the hospital staff will treat them with respect.
Even at this age, a familiar object, journal or favorite tape or CD can help your teen feel calmer in the hospital.