Children often have lots of questions about coming to the hospital, such as "Why do I have to go?" "What will happen?" "Where will you be?" and "How long will I have to stay?"
Preparing Kids for a Hospital Stay
You can help your child feel more comfortable about coming to the hospital by discussing what to expect. Get all the information you can about your child's stay or surgery, so you can offer reassurance and answer questions. Let your child know that a family member will be there. Separation is a natural fear in children, and even the youngest infants are reassured by a parent's presence.
Here are some other ideas to help prepare your child:
- A good place to begin the discussion is by asking children what they know about coming to the hospital.
- Give your child simple, age-appropriate explanations. Answer questions honestly; children lose trust if they aren't told the truth.
- Children need to know what their experience will be like. Talk about how things may feel, smell, sound and look.
- Reassure your child that a family member will be there.
- Provide encouragement and support.
- Provide opportunities for your child to express feelings about the hospital experience, either through play or verbally.
- Discuss ways you could make the hospital experience easier – for example, reading books, blowing bubbles or listening to music.
- Familiarize your child with the hospital setting by reading children's books about hospital visits.
- Encourage your child to help pack for the hospital. Bringing a few personal items, such as a cherished blanket or stuffed animal, can help kids feel more relaxed in the hospital.
You can tell your child that kids go to UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals to receive care that helps them get better and return home to their families. Let your child know that it's a place just for kids, where all the grown-ups are there to help.
If your child will have surgery during their stay, please review Preparing for Your Child's Surgery.
When to tell your child about a hospital stay
The best timing for discussions depends on the child's age. Preschoolers do best when given information a day or two in advance. Older children need more time to think things through, talk about their thoughts and organize questions. Sometimes, if children or teens overhear conversations, they may have questions and need explanations sooner.
When you need to be away
Leaving your child in the hospital, whether for brief or extended periods, is an expected but often difficult part of hospitalization. You will need breaks and may have to go home or to work.
It's helpful to tell your child when you're leaving and when you'll return. Parents may want to slip away unnoticed to avoid upsetting their child, but children may become more upset when they realize their parents have left. Children feel safer and more comfortable when they know what to expect. It may be helpful to leave your child a personal item, such as an item of clothing or a photo, while you're away.
If you need to leave the hospital, let your child's nurse know when you will return and how to contact you or another family member. Staff are available to discuss how to make your time away easier.
Siblings may have a difficult time adjusting to the hospitalization, and you may notice changes in their behavior, moods, sleep patterns and school performance. Staff from Child Life Services, Social Services, Spiritual Care Services and nursing can work directly with your child's siblings to help them cope and understand why the hospitalization is necessary. Please share any concerns you have with us, so we can better support your family.
Patients' siblings are generally welcome at the hospital and are encouraged to use many of our facilities and services for kids. Please check with your child's nurse or a child life specialist about any restrictions.
To help support siblings during your child's hospital stay, you can:
- Try to maintain their usual routines at home with family members and friends.
- Make daily contact with them.
- Give simple explanations and answers to their questions.
- Encourage them to visit their sibling in the hospital.
- Provide opportunities to play with dolls, puppets or art supplies, aiming to help them express their feelings and act out the hospital experience.
If you need more help preparing your child for a surgery or hospital stay, please contact Child Life Services.
Your child's hospital stay
Soothing the soul