Before your visit
Having a sick child is a very difficult experience for any parent or caregiver. To help alleviate anxiety, try to understand your own feelings, perceptions and fears about hospitalization before talking to your child. Do not be afraid to ask for help and identify people in your life who can be your support systems. Talk with your child’s health care team about his or her treatment plan and learn about the tests and procedures involved in your child’s care and recovery.
Preparing your child
Hospitals can be a frightening place for a child. Preparing your child in advance of his or her hospital stay may reduce anxiety by setting clear expectations. It will also help your child cope and establish trust with you and the people he or she meets in the hospital.
It is common 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 procedure being done and their past experiences with medical care.
Here are some ways to prepare your child for a more comfortable hospital stay:
- For a child under 5 years of age, talk to him or her one or two days before he or she enters the hospital. Older children should have a few days to a week to process the information and ask questions.
- Be careful not to force a discussion if your child does not seem ready.
- Talk openly and honestly. If you do not know the answer, tell your child you do not know, but you will find out.
- Use words your child will understand.
- Encourage your child to express his or her feelings and ask questions about his or her upcoming hospitalization. When you answer your child’s questions, keep his or her age, developmental stage, personality and experiences with medical encounters in mind.
- Ask your child to pack a suitcase with the things he or she wants in the hospital, such as a favorite stuffed animal, tablet or book.
The siblings of patients can also face unique challenges during their brother’s or sister’s hospitalization. Issues may arise due to:
- Separation from caregiver(s) and sibling(s)
- Changes in daily routines
- Feelings of guilt about their sibling’s illness
- Fears or misconceptions regarding hospitalization or his or her sibling’s condition
- Less attention from caregivers
As a result, siblings may eat or talk less, withdraw, act out in attention-seeking ways, have outbursts of pent-up feelings and/or start acting in a more immature manner than normal.