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For Parents

Helping Your Child Through a Hospital Stay

photoWe recognize that medical experiences and hospitalization can be confusing and scary for children and their families. It is the goal of the Child Life Program to help children cope with these fears and to support families in adjusting to the stress these can bring.

Be There for Your Child

  • Set aside time to talk, listen, or simply be with your child when he or she needs attention.
  • Be available during times when your child may be most likely to worry, such as bedtime.
  • Stay overnight when possible. The younger the child is, the more important this is.
  • When you have to leave, tell your child (and the nurse) where you are going and when you will return.
  • Be sure to tell your child who will be taking care of him or her while you are gone.
  • Give your child something of yours to hold onto.
  • If possible, keep in touch with your child while you are away.
  • Arrange for visits from people your child knows.
  • Prepare yourself and take care of yourself so you can help take care of your child.

Share Your Observations with Your Child’s Health Care Team

Parent with child

You are the best person to interpret your child’s needs and wants as well as to monitor improvements or spot anything that seems unusual. Your input is vital so please speak up!

Treat Your Child as Normally as Possible

It is not unusual for children to act differently in the hospital than at home. However, even though your child is ill, it is a good idea to try to maintain as much of a sense of “life as usual” as possible. Child Life Specialists can help with this.

Be as active in your child’s care as his or her condition will allow. Ask your nurse for help with this. Try to hold onto as many rituals from home as possible;

  • Help your child stick to a structured daily schedule
  • Feed and bathe younger children as you would at home
  • Watch favorite TV programs together
  • Include your hospitalized child in any appropriate family decisions being made at the time
  • Observe family rules as much as you can as familiar limits make children feel secure
  • Bring favorite possessions from home, but make sure everything is clearly labeled with your name
  • Bring your child’s school work to the hospital. Staying involved in school helps children stay in touch with their “outside” life as well as contributing to the sense of “life as usual”. Check with your school if you need to plan for tutoring. Again, your Child Life Specialist can help with this.
  • Help your child stay in touch with family and friends through phone calls, internet, photos, etc.

Encourage Children to be Children

Play and interaction with other children can be a vital part of the healing process. Take your child to the playroom or recreation room as soon as possible. If your child’s activity is restricted, talk to a Child Life Specialist about options. Persuade your child to participate in as many activities and special programs as possible.

Help Your Child Feel More Confident and in Control

  • Show that you trust the doctors and nurses. Present them as people who care and are here to help.
  • Prepare your child for the cross section of other patients he or she will meet. Help your child to understand that despite outward differences, these people are just like everyone else on the inside.
  • Find ways to give your child choices. They can be as simple as:
    • Choosing a band-aid color or design
    • Deciding which arm to use for a blood pressure check
    • Choosing a story to read
  • Older children and adolescents develop a strong need for privacy. You and the staff can help by:
    • Knocking before entering your child’s room
    • Being sensitive to who is around during procedures or examinations
    • Designating “private times” when your child will not be disturbed
  • Encourage older children and adolescents to take responsibility for as much of their own care as possible.
  • If your child shows more than normal anxiety, check with your medical team about extra supports that might be available.
  • Talk about what you want to do together when you leave the hospital.