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Preparing Your Child for a Hospital Stay

The following has been adapted from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) web resource.

Visiting a hospital for any reason can be a scary experience for children of all ages — especially when your child will be in the hospital overnight for what’s called an inpatient stay. These tips can help you prepare your child for his/her visit so that he/she feels more comfortable about their upcoming hospital stay.

* Emphasize that the hospital stay is temporary.

* Reassure your child that you will visit as often as you can and stay overnight if this is possible.

* Pack together for the hospital stay. Let your child choose his/her own pajamas to bring.

* Point out similarities between the hospital and home such as regular meals, chances to play and having one’s own bed.

* Include your entire family in one of your ‘pre-hospital’ talks.

* Borrow a library book that describes a hospital stay and read it with your child.

Age-Appropriate Advice:

Ages 3 and younger:

What your child is thinking: Your child’s greatest concern is being away from you.

How you can help: Stay with your child as much as possible during the hospital stay. Explain in terms he/she can understand, why it is necessary to be there.

Ages 4 to 6:

What your child is thinking: Children in this age group fear damage to their bodies.

How you can help: Be careful when explaining what will take place. While describing anesthesia, say the doctor will help your child take a nap for a few hours. When talking about surgery, use the word ‘opening,’ instead of ‘cut.’

Ages 6 to 12:

What your child is thinking: Children older than 6 will worry about losing control as well as damage to their bodies.

How you can help: Be open. Don’t deny that there will be some pain after an operation. Explain that although it will hurt for a while, your child will be made to feel as comfortable as possible.

Teenagers:

What your child is thinking: Teenagers are often reluctant to ask questions so you may believe that they understand more than they actually do.

How you can help: Encourage your teenager to ask the doctors and nurses any questions he/she may have. Include your child in discussions about the care plan so he/she will feel more in control.

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