Preparing Your Child

Your child may have many concerns about what will happen during a hospital stay or surgery. Your child may want to know why the procedure is needed, how long it will take, how uncomfortable it will feel and when he or she can return home. Get all the information you can about your child's procedure to help reassure your child and answer his or her questions. You may accompany your child to most procedures to provide emotional support. Fear of separation is a crucial issue for children, and even the youngest infants are sensitive to their parent's presence.

What Should I tell my Child?

There is no "right way" for children or families to cope with a procedure or medical event. In general, it's best to:

  • Give children as much honest, simple and concrete information as they can understand.
  • Rehearse the event using dolls, drawings, role-play or verbal review.
  • Develop a plan to decrease anxiety and promote coping.
  • Provide praise and support.
  • Provide opportunities to play out or discuss events afterward.

When Should I Tell my Child?

The timing of discussions about procedures or surgeries will vary depending on your child's age. Pre-school children, for example, do best with information a day or two before the event. Older children will need more time to think things through, talk it over and organize questions.

How Much Should I Tell my Child?

Children don't need to know what will happen from a medical point of view, but rather what their experience will be like. Try to use neutral, unemotional words and focus on how things will feel, smell, sound and look. They don't need information about procedures that they won't experience directly.

When Parents Need to be Away

Leaving your child, whether for a brief or more extended period, is an inevitable but often difficult part of hospitalization. You will need breaks and may need to go home or to work. It is helpful to tell your child when you are leaving. Parents may want to slip away unnoticed to avoid upsetting their child but children actually become more upset when they realize their parents have left. Children feel safer and more comfortable when they know what to expect. Leave specific information with your child's nurse about when you will return and how you or a family member can be contacted. Staff is available to discuss how to make your time away easier.

Routine Activities

Maintaining a routine similar to your home routine helps your child adjust to a hospital stay. Please let us know any routine that will make you and your child more comfortable.

  • Daily care: When possible, parents are encouraged to participate in care such as bathing, diapering and feeding.
  • Physician rounds: Your child's team will meet to discuss your child's plan of care. The team may include the attending physician in charge, resident physicians, clinical nurse specialist, social worker, nutritionist and your nurse. Parents are encouraged to express concerns or questions to any team member for discussion during the team meeting.
  • Nutrition: Nutrition is an important part of your child's care in the hospital. Your physician will order a diet suitable to your child's medical and nutritional needs. Questions about your child's diet, meals or nutrition can be directed to one of the hospital's registered dietitians. Please inform us of any dietary preferences your child may have. If someone wants to bring food for your child from outside, please discuss this with your nurse. At breakfast, you will receive a menu for the following day. Please mark your child's choices and leave your menu on the bedside table (not on your food tray) or give it to your nurse.

Related Information

Preparing for Your Stay

Child Life Services
Phone: (415) 353-1203

Pediatric Social Work
Phone: (415) 353-2655

Prepare Clinic
Phone: (415) 353-1099

Contact Us

For help finding a doctor or other assistance, contact our Physician Referral Service at (888) 689-UCSF or (888) 689-8273.

Have a question? Send us an email.