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Preparing your child for a hospital stay

Getting ready

Your child’s hospital stay will be easier if you use this checklist from the Association for the Care of Children’s Health.

  • Gather information from your child’s doctor and hospital personnel so that you and your child know what to expect. Some helpful questions include:

    • What tests will be run, and how will they look and feel to my child?
    • When can grandparents, siblings and friends visit?

  • Be honest but sensitive to your child. Make sure your child understands that being in the hospital is not punishment.
  • Explain what will happen and how it might feel.
  • Read books and play “hospital” to prepare for the hospital stay.
  • When packing for your child, include several favorite objects in addition to clothing.

No one ever said being a parent is easy, especially when you have to reassure your child in spite of your own fears and apprehension. Should your son or daughter ever need to be hospitalized, you may find yourself in just such a position.

That’s why it’s best to come to terms with your own feelings before talking to your child. If you seem upset or scared, your son or daughter will sense it. Also, before talking to your child, arrange to take him or her on a tour of the hospital and find out if you’ll be able to “room in” with your child. What’s more, if you’re unclear about the reason for the hospitalization or about the procedures that will take place, talk to your child’s doctor.

Once you’ve gathered the facts, pick the right time to talk to your son or daughter. A 3- or 4-year-old doesn’t need to be told until a day or two before going to the hospital. Older children, on the other hand, can be told up to two weeks in advance.

Answer your child’s questions and concerns as thoroughly as you can. And keep in mind that he or she may not need—or want—to know every detail of every procedure. It may help to act out the hospital experience with stuffed animals. Or draw pictures and write stories to ease fears. You might also check out books that rely on Curious George or Sesame Street characters to explain what a hospital stay is like. Reading the books with your child can help calm his or her nerves and answer questions that may not have come to mind before.

Being away from home—especially in a hospital—can upset your child. To make the stay less stressful, help him or her pack some favorite belongings—a stuffed animal to cuddle, photos of family and pets, and CDs and books. “It’s also a good idea to give your child something that he or she knows is of special value to you,” says Wilson. “That gives kids the added security of knowing that you will be coming back for them.”


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