Hospitalization can be a traumatic event for children and their families. Preparing your child for a hospital stay, however, can reduce the confusion and stress surrounding admission day. Here are some ways to ensure that your child's hospitalization is a positive experience.
Preparing children for a hospital stay can increase their confidence and ability to cope. Children's Hospital at Erlanger provides tours for children who are scheduled for surgery. Tours include a visit to the outpatient surgery area. During the hospital tour, children have opportunities to handle and play with medical equipment so they can become familiar with the items and medical procedures before surgery.
While in the hospital, your child can benefit from being surrounded by familiar objects from home. Some children like to wear their own clothes or pajamas. Plan to bring the child's favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or toy. If your child has an extended hospital stay, you may want to bring family photos to display in the hospital room.
Visits from family and friends also can be important for your child. Children's Hospital has a flexible visitation policy, dependent upon the patient's condition.
Younger children do not need much advance notice of hospitalizations. Knowing about their upcoming hospital stay more than a day or two before the event only gives them more time to worry. On the other hand, school-age children and adolescents need more time to process the information and have the opportunity to ask questions.
Of course, not every hospital stay is planned. Parents can help children cope with an emergency visit-or a scheduled admission-by providing them with clear, accurate, and age-appropriate information throughout the hospital stay. Children need to know what is going to happen to them and how it is going to feel.
Your child, for example, may ask if a procedure will hurt. A good response is: "Some kids say it hurts. Some kids say it doesn't hurt. I don't know how it will feel for you." This type of answer can empower children, giving them some control over the situation.
Specially trained child life specialists are available at Children's Hospital to help patients adjust to hospital routines and procedures. Children's Hospital Foundation supports the only Child Life Department in this region. Child life specialists focus on meeting the nonmedical needs of hospitalized children and young adults.
Determining children's emotional needs after a hospitalization can be as critical as assessing their physical condition. Youngsters often exhibit behavior problems when they return home from the hospital. Some regress in their behavior, while others may experience sleeping difficulties. Many children need extra attention from family and loved ones during this time. Give children every opportunity to discuss what happened and how it made them feel. Encourage your child to discuss the hospital experience with you. Younger children may need the opportunity to "play through" their hospital visit. Older children may want to talk about their hospital stay.