Hospital can be a scary place for anyone, especially a child under ten years old. We asked our Psychologist for her tips on how to provide natural and safe mental and physical support for a child going into hospital for a short-term stay or longer …
How to Prepare Your Child Physically
Before a hospital stay, help boost your child’s immunity – serve lots of vegetables and fruit servings throughout the day, use a natural immune system booster and try starting a course of children’s multi-vitamins
Get your child into a sleep routine that mirrors hospital hours – so it won’t come as much of a shock when they are staying overnight.
Purchase a new pair of pajamas or slippers, an overnight case or a new stuffed toy – something special to lighten the situation.
Buy your child a small pen light torch, or some glow-in-the-dark stickers -something they can see in the dark if they wake up in the middle of the night.
Include a special bottle, cup, book, toy, pillowcase or blanket
Photos of family or pets can also be placed nearby
It’s best to leave unnecessary valuables, such as jewelry and portable CD players, at home.
How to Prepare Your Child Mentally
Listen to your child’s fears and worries
Be honest about what will happen and what may hurt
Use short, simple terms he knows
Reassure him that if something hurts, there are ways to help the pain, including medicine, relaxation, listening to music and playing games
Reassure your child that you will be with him as much as you can
Use one of his stuffed animals to show what will happen and encourage him to ask questions and talk about his fears
If your child seems uneasy with talk about the hospital or clinic, stop and try again later
Reassure him that having to go to the clinic does not mean he has done something wrong
Encourage your child to bring toys or activities from home to play with during waiting times
There are many good books for children about going to hospital and what they can expect when they are there. This can be a great source on information for your child and will also open up topics for discussion, depending on your child’s age.
Helping Children of Different Ages
Infants and Toddlers
Infants and toddlers need to have familiar objects around them at the hospital. Bring along your child's favorite toy, blanket or other comfort item.
Two- to Six-Year-Olds
As children get older, you can talk with them about going to the clinic or hospital, and about what will happen while they're there. Rather say: "I'll bet you're wondering what it's going to be like at the clinic, aren't you?" than, "How do you feel?" as this will encourage your child to talk freely about what he is feeling. It’s a good idea to let him be the doctor to a doll or stuffed toy so he can "operate" on it, give it "injections" or just apply a Band-Aid.
Six- to Ten-Year-Olds
Explain that the hospital treats children of all ages, with many different medical problems. It's important to explain that doctors, nurses and other people at the hospital will do certain tests and procedures to find out what's making him ill or to help make him feel better.
Note: If you have personal, ethical or spiritual values that are important to you or that may impact how the hospital can best care for your child, let them know. Let the clinic or hospital know in advance if you require special food for your child.
A note to parents: The most important factor when a child goes into hospital (for a short procedure, or for a longer duration) is to let the nurses and doctor know that your child is nervous, sensitive or afraid. Most children’s ward staff are very friendly and helpful – and hospital staff are used to children being scared or lonely. However, it is always a good idea to mention it, as extra check ups or comforting words are always helpful!