Before talking to your child about an upcoming hospital stay, familiarize yourself with his or her condition or illness by discussing it with your physician. The better acquainted you are with the tests and treatments associated with your child's condition and the Hospital's programs and procedures before your child is admitted, the more you can focus on supporting your child during his or her hospital stay.
It is important to let your child know what to expect from an upcoming hospital stay. It is just as important to assure your child that he or she will not be alone. Your child should know that you and other family members will be on hand as much as possible and that the nurses and doctors will be available at all times.
Encourage your child to ask questions, no matter how silly they may sound, or write them down. It can also be helpful for your child to start a journal about his or her hospital experience. If your child is too young to write, have him or her draw, paint, or color instead. If you don't know the answers to some questions, be direct and tell your child you do not know; however, tell him or her that you will try to get answers as quickly as possible. To help prepare your child, you may want to read books and view videotapes that address a hospital stay.
The following are some general guidelines, broken down by age group, on how to prepare your child for a stay at the hospital. Please keep in mind that each child is different, and your child's capacity for understanding a hospital stay will be affected by many factors, such as developmental state, personality, and intelligence.
It is difficult to prepare infants and toddlers for a hospital visit. Talk with your toddler the day before the visit. Children at this age like to see their parents nearby, and they like to be held. The Hospital will give you every opportunity possible to be with your child. You can make your child feel more secure by bringing along a favorite stuffed animal, pacifier or blanket.
Three- to six-year-olds need more time to absorb information. Speak with your child a few days before the hospital stay. Children at this age are very concerned about being separated from their parents, so it is important for you to reassure your child that you will be available to help as much as possible.
Elementary school-age children love to ask questions, so encourage them to do so. Begin discussing the hospital stay a week or so before the admission, and be honest with your child about what to expect. Try to engage your child in the planning process as much as possible.
Teenagers must be treated with respect. They don't like to be kept in the dark and should be part of the conversation about a hospital stay from the beginning. Of all children, teenagers are best able to understand what will happen in the hospital and express their concerns. Encourage your teenager to ask questions and talk with doctors and nurses, but keep in mind that he or she may want some privacy.