As an important member of a child’s care team, parents can do a lot to prepare and support children during their hospital stay. Understanding what children experience during a hospital stay can help you find the best ways to help your child feel more comfortable.

Common Experiences of Children During Hospitalization

When it’s time to visit the doctor, children may become worried or fearful. Children are likely to feel anxious due to these concerns:

  • Pain – Children often anticipate feelings of pain or discomfort during procedures. Many children fear needles.
  • Punishment – Children may feel guilty about going to the hospital. They may believe that an exam, a procedure or their illness is a punishment for something.
  • Separation – Children may worry that their parents will leave them at the hospital or during their procedures.
  • The unknown – As with adults, fear of the unknown can be anxiety provoking for children. They may worry that their problem is much worse than what their parents are telling them. Some may worry about the possibility of surgery or invasive procedures. For children with chronic illnesses, they may worry that they will die.

Helping Children Cope With Hospitalization

Children are more able to cope with stressful situations when they understand what is going on. Using age-appropriate language, you can engage them in an open and honest discussion about what they are going to experience.

Set the tone using a calm, relaxed voice and assure them that they can ask questions and express their feelings at any time.

  • Prepare yourself for your child’s hospitalization. If you feel at ease, your child can sense that and react in the same way.
  • Explain what is going to happen using words relating to the child’s senses such as things they will see, hear or feel.
  • Use simple language. Be honest. Give information to your child that will help prepare your child for a hospital visit or a specific procedure.
  • Help your child to express his/her feelings or fears. Reassure them that you will be there to support them. Provide them the space to express their feelings.
  • Let your child ask questions and double check what they understand about the situation. By being patient and taking their questions seriously, you can avoid misunderstanding or further anxiety.
  • With your child, practice coping skills that they can utilize such as deep breathing, counting or singing.
  • Stay with your child, if possible. Separation is difficult and your presence is comforting and healing.
  • Reassure your child. Make sure your child knows going to the hospital is not a punishment.
  • Give your child choices when choices exist, such as deciding which juice flavor to drink when taking medicine. Having control will help your child get through challenging experiences.

What to Bring to the Hospital

Here are some ideas on what to bring for your child’s hospital stay.

  • The child’s favorite comfort item from home
  • Personal blankets or pillows
  • Stuffed animals
  • Toys
  • Their favorite pajamas
  • Cards, letters, pictures to personalize the room
  • School work
  • Pictures of family and pets

At the Hospital

Try to maintain as much of a daily routine as possible. Continue to provide affection and reaffirmation throughout their stay. Using items from home, personalize their room and help them feel more comfortable.

Most importantly, share information about your child with the health care team so we can get to know you and your child and provide the best care possible. Helpful information includes:

  • What comforts them at home
  • Ways they communicate with others
  • Things that make them uncomfortable
  • Ways to soothe them when they become stressed