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Golisano Children's Hospital / For Parents / Preparing Your Child for a Hospital Stay

Preparing Your Child for a Hospital Stay

stuffed bearsAt Golisano Children’s Hospital, we recognize that a hospital can be a confusing and scary place for children. Our health care team is dedicated to making sure you and your child are comfortable and that you receive the best care possible, at all times.

You are your child’s best support. Talking honestly and openly is an important way to inform and reassure your child about the visit to the hospital.

Choose the Right Time

Your child’s age is a good guide to determine how soon to share information. In general, tell:

  • Pre-school children, one or two days ahead of time
  • School-age children, about a week in advance
  • Adolescents, as soon as possible

Select a quiet time when you will not be interrupted.

Set the Tone

  • Use a calm, relaxed tone of voice.
  • Let your child know it is OK to ask questions and express feelings.

Explain Only What Your Child Can Understand

Use language appropriate to your child’s age. For younger children:

  • Be careful with medical terminology. A child might conclude that when the nurse “takes blood,” he or she will take it all.
  • Check as you go along to make sure your child understands new words. Just because a child uses a new word does not mean he or she understands it.
  • Look for ways to substitute familiar words in place of medical words. For instance, if your child will be on a heart monitor, you can refer to the electrodes (the small conducting patches) as “stickies.”

Try not to overwhelm your child with too much information at one time. You can judge how well your child understands by the questions he or she asks. For example, if your child asks why she has to go to the hospital, you can compare it to going to the doctor’s office. Explain that it is another place where doctors and nurses work to help children get better. It is a place where children stay overnight and get all the special care they need.

Children make sense of information more easily in terms of how things will feel, look, sound or smell.

Be Honest but Reassuring

Explain the reason for the procedure or hospitalization, stressing the benefits.

  • Use “gentle” words whenever possible. For example, you might say that a surgeon will “make” an opening rather than “cut” an opening. Also avoid words that your child will associate with a bad experience. “Being put to sleep” may remind him or her of a family pet take to the vet, never to return.
  • Try to save topics that you believe will cause your child the most stress until the end of the conversation.
  • Do not tell your child that a painful procedure will not hurt. If you do, he or she will not believe you next time. On the other hand, do not plant fears. Children, like adults, are unique when it comes to experiencing pain. What is uncomfortable for one may not be for another. Reassure your child that, if there is pain, people are here to help with it.
  • Ask your child’s doctor for guidance on how much discomfort there might be, how long it will last, and how it will be managed.
  • If your child will be sedated during a procedure, explain how anesthesia (or “sleeping medicine”) works. Reassure him or her that they will not wake up until everything is over.
  • Practice coping skills ahead of time with your child, such as deep breathing, counting or singing.
  • Share feelings. Let your child know that it is OK to cry or to be afraid, but that you are there.
  • Unless asked, avoid talking about possible complications.
  • Your child may have questions you cannot answer. You can work together to make a list of questions to ask someone else.

Help Your Child Express His or Her Feelings

  • Ask your child questions to make sure he or she understands what you have said.
  • Take all questions seriously.
  • Encourage younger children to express themselves through play or art. Play “hospital” with dolls, stuffed toys or action figures. Read and write stories (see Resource list), draw pictures, watch movies, etc.
  • Reassure your child that he or she is not to blame.
  • Choose a favorite toy, blanket, etc., to bring with you to the hospital. This provided security and a sense of familiarity in an unfamiliar place.
  • If your child shows signs of excessive fear or worry, talk to your health care team about other available supports.

Child Life Specialists

The Child Life Specialists at Golisano Children’s Hospital are available to help children and families prepare for and cope with the health care experience. We provide pre-admission tours and opportunities for play, self-expression and support.

To contact a Child Life Specialist, please ask your nurse, or call the Child Life Office (585) 275-9878.