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Preparing For Your Child's Hospital Stay

Hospitals can be a confusing place for a child. Preparing children ahead of time for the things they may experience in the hospital will reduce much of their anxiety.  It will also help them cope and trust you and the people they meet in the hospital. 

Since it's inception in 1968, Chase Child Life Program has been a pioneer, and a national model for how to appropriately address the social, emotional and developmental needs of each child and his/her family. Child Life Specialists recognize developmental issues related to illness, support coping strategies to reduce fears, and concerns through education, behavior management, and adaptive role play. Child Life Specialists are available to prepare your child prior to a medical procedure. For more information on having your child prepared by a Child Life Specialist, contact Chase Child Life Program, 310-267-9440, childlife@mednet.ucla.edu.


TIPS FOR PREPARING A CHILD AT ANY AGE

  • For younger children (under the age of 5), talk to him or her a day or two before the experience. Older children should have a few days to a week to get information and ask questions.
  • Be careful not to force a discussion if your child does not seem ready.

  • Be honest. If you do not know the answer, tell your child you do not know, but you will find out.

  • Use words the child will understand.

  • Encourage the child to discuss feelings and ask questions about the upcoming experience.

  • Have your child pack a suitcase with the things he or she wants in the hospital. Some children may be able to wear their own pajamas to sleep in, but depending on the medical situation, some children may be required to wear hospital pajamas.

  • Ask about pre-hospital preparations provided by Chase Child Life Program.

  • It is not uncommon to see changes in a child's behavior before, during or after hospitalization. Children's responses to hospitalization and medical procedures will differ, depending on their age, the procedures to be done, and their past experiences.

PREPARATION FOR PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS  

  • First prepare yourself:
    • Understand your own feelings and perceptions about the hospitalization.
    • Don't be afraid to ask for help. Identify who can help you or who are your support systems.
  • Gather information before speaking with your child:
    • Talk about your feelings together with your child
    • Provide honest information
    • Get the answers to your questions. Encourage your child to ask questions
    • Learn about tests, procedures and treatment planned for your child
    • Talk with the doctor about the plan for treatment
  • How to talk to your child:
    • You know your child the best
    • Talk openly and honestly with your child
    • Answer your child's questions with the following in mind:
      • Age and developmental stage
      • Personality
      • Past experiences with medical encounters
      • Understanding of the illness

TIPS FOR PREPARING SIBLINGS

  • Possible Issues for Siblings:
    • Separation from caregivers and sibling(s)
    • Change in familiar routines
    • Feelings of guilt related to thoughts about their ill sibling
    • Fears or misconceptions regarding hospitalization
    • Decrease in attention from caregivers
  • Possible Regressive Behaviors from Well Child:
    • Eating or talking less
    • Showing withdrawing behavior
    • Acting out in a way to get more attention
    • Giving outburst of storing up feelings
    • Returning to behaviors of an earlier age

TIPS FOR PREPARING INFANTS

  • Possible Issues for Infants:
    • Change in routine
    • Diet restrictions
    • Change in sleep patterns
    • Mobility restrictions
    • Separation from caregivers
    • Unfamiliar environment and people
    • Possible interruption of typical development (e.g., learning to sit up, crawl, stand)
  • How to help Infants:
    • Bring familiar items from home (e.g. blankets, stuffed animals, pacifiers, soothing music, pictures)
    • Create a plan for consistent caregivers
    • Keep routines as normal as possible

TIPS FOR PREPARING TODDLERS

  • Possible Issues for Toddlers:
    • Change in routine
    • Diet restrictions
    • Change in sleep patterns
    • Mobility restrictions
    • Separation from caregivers
    • Unfamiliar environment and people
    • Possible interruption of typical development
      • Toilet training
      • Learning to talk and walk
  • How to help Toddlers:
    • Wait until 1-2 days before admission to talk to your toddler (toddlers have difficulty understanding the concept of time and may begin to worry if told too soon)
      • Keep explanations and language simple
      • Reassure your child that you will be with him whenever possible
    • Bring familiar items from home (e.g., blankets, stuffed animals, sippy cups, music)
    • Allow your child to choose his/her favorite things to bring to the hospital (this will give the child a sense of control)
    • Be patient with your toddler (it is not uncommon for young children to regress and become fussy or clingy)
    • Try to provide comfort and support while remaining consistent with your approaches to discipline
    • Provide your child an opportunity to participate in healthcare play (e.g., "doctor's kit)
    • Read books about going to the hospital

TIPS FOR PREPARING PRESCHOOLERS

  • Possible Issues for Preschoolers:
    • Change in routine
    • Diet restrictions
    • Change in sleep patterns
    • Mobility restrictions
    • Separation from caregivers
    • Unfamiliar environment and people
  • How to help Preschoolers:
    • Talk to your preschooler 3-5 days before hospital stay (it is important to give them enough time to process the information, but not too much time to allow for misconceptions to develop)
    • Use simple terms and concrete explanations without too many details
    • Use words for body parts, and functions that are familiar to your child
    • Talk to your child openly and honestly (young children are more likely to maintain a trusting relationship if they feel included in the experience)
    • Give your child an opportunity to ask questions and clarify misconceptions
    • Encourage your child to talk about their feelings
    • Reassure your child that he/she did not do anything to cause the hospitalization, procedure or surgery (he/she did not do anything wrong)
    • Let your child help choose familiar favorite items from home (e.g., blankets, stuffed animals, music, toys, books, DVDs)
    • Create a plan for consistent caregivers
    • Provide your child an opportunity to participate in healthcare play (e.g. play with a "doctor's kit")
    • Read books about going to the hospital (e.g. books with pictures of medical equipment)

TIPS FOR PREPARING SCHOOL AGE CHILDREN

  • Possible Issues for School-Age Children:
    • Change in routine
    • Diet restrictions
    • Change in sleep patterns
    • Mobility restrictions
    • Time away from school
    • Time away from sports and activities
    • Separation from peers and caregivers
    • Unfamiliar environment and people
    • Feeling homesick
    • Loss of independence
  • How to Help Your School-Age Child:
    • Talk to your school-age child 1-2 weeks prior to hospitalization (it is important to give them enough time to process the information, but not too much time to allow for misconceptions to develop)
    • Talk to your child openly, honestly and in simple terms (children at this age are more likely to maintain a trusting relationship if they feel included in the experience and part of the decision making process)
    • Have an understanding about anesthesia, pain, change in appearance, etc., to prepare for questions your child may have.
    • Explain to your child why the procedure, surgery, or hospitalization is necessary. Discuss fears or concerns.
    • Provide an opportunity to ask questions and express how he/she is feeling (e.g., what questions do you have about the hospital? What are you wondering about with your procedure?)
    • Talk with your child about ways to share his upcoming hospital stay with friends
    • Talk with your child's teacher to develop a plan for making up missed assignments (a school teacher is available for patients hospitalized longer than 10 days)
    • Encourage your child to focus on the long-term benefits of the surgery, procedure or hospitalization. Focus on the positive.
    • Encourage him or her to help with packing his or her favorite belongings, be sure his or her favorite items are included (e.g., favorite blanket, pillow, slippers, toys, books, music, handheld electronic games, laptop)
    • Create a plan for consistent caregivers (make a schedule of who can be at the hospital at different periods of time)
    • Provide your child an opportunity to participate in health care - through asking questions and being included in basic discussions

TIPS FOR PREPARING ADOLESCENTS

  • Possible Issues for Adolescents:
    • Change in routine
    • Diet restrictions
    • Change in sleep patterns
    • Mobility restrictions
    • Time away from school
    • Time away from sports and activities
    • Separation from peers and caregivers
    • Unfamiliar environment and people
    • Feeling homesick
    • Loss of independence
    • Loss of privacy
  • How to Help Your Adolescent:
    • Talk to your adolescent as soon as you plan for admission (it is important to give them enough time to process the information, but not too much time to allow for misconceptions to develop)
    • Talk to your child openly, honestly. Teens are more likely to maintain a trusting relationship if they feel included in the experience and part of the decision making process.
    • Establish open communication so the adolescent may ask questions about a procedure or hospitalization
    • Talk with him/her about ways to share her upcoming hospital stay with peers
    • Encourage him/her to help with packing their belongings to be sure his favorite items are included (e.g., pillow, slippers, books, music, games, laptop)
    • Create a plan for consistent caregivers (make a schedule of who can be at the hospital at different periods of time)
    • Communicate with your adolescent's teachers about ways to keep up with school work (school teachers are available if your child's expected length of stay is greater than 10 days)
    • Provide her an opportunity to participate in health care - encourage her to ask questions and take part in decision making.
    • Plan ways for her to keep in touch with peers.

Since it's inception in 1968, Chase Child Life Program has been a pioneer, and a national model for how to appropriately address the social, emotional and developmental needs of each child and his/her family. Child Life Specialists recognize developmental issues related to illness, support coping strategies to reduce fears, and concerns through education, behavior management, and adaptive role play. Child Life Specialists are available to prepare your child prior to a medical procedure. For more information on having your child prepared by a Child Life Specialist, contact Chase Child Life Program, 310-267-9440, childlife@mednet.ucla.edu.