Child stay

How to make your child's hospital experience easier

You are your child’s main support in the hospital, just as you are at home. You can play an important role in creating a positive hospital experience for your child. 

Children can experience stress in different ways, depending on their age. Here are some tips to help your child cope in the hospital or during procedures. 

Infants and toddlers

Infants and toddlers can experience stress when separating from their parents or when medical experiences cause changes to a child’s normal sleep and feeding patterns. 

Doctor’s offices and hospitals are often full of strange sights, sounds, smells and unfamiliar people, as well as uncomfortable procedures that can cause your infant or toddler to cry and become upset.

Ways to help infants and toddlers: 
●    Give lots of hugs and kisses.
●    Bring familiar comfort items from home.
●    Create a schedule or routine for consistent caregivers.
●    Use soothing music or other items to create a comfortable environment for your child.
●    Provide play time when you are able.
●    Take time to cuddle and rock your child.

Preschool children

Preschoolers have many common fears of doctor’s offices and hospitals, including fears of needles and pain, being away from family and being around strangers, as well as feelings of loss of control.

Preschoolers may also view medical procedures and hospitalization as a punishment for being “bad.” It’s important to reassure children that they are in the hospital to help them heal or get better.

Ways to help preschoolers: 
●    Bring familiar comfort items from home. 
●    Give them real choices when possible.
●    Provide simple explanations of medical procedures before they happen.
●    Offer reassurances about their feelings and emotions.
●    Provide time to play, especially with medical-related play items.
●    Be patient with temper tantrums, bedwetting, thumb sucking and other common responses to stress.

School-age children

For school-age children, going to the doctor or hospital can cause them to feel fearful of being alone, losing control and experiencing pain or needles. They may also fear illness and sometimes even death. 

Encourage school-age children to ask questions and express concerns about their medical care. Use what they say as a guide for how much information and detail they need. 

Ways to help school-age children: 
●    Bring familiar comfort items from home.
●    Give them real choices whenever possible; for example: “Do you want to take your medicine with water or orange juice?” instead of “Do you want to take your medicine now?”
●    Offer reassurances that it is OK to be afraid and to cry.
●    Give them an opportunity to participate in their care.
●    Provide an outlet for play and expression of feelings, such as art or video games.

Teenagers

Teenagers may experience stress due to: 
●    Separation from peers and caregivers
●    Concerns about changes in physical appearance
●    Feeling out of control
●    Interacting with unfamiliar people and environment
●    Lack of privacy
●    Loss of independence/identity

Reassure your teenager that all of these feelings are normal. Your patience and guidance can help your teen to cope appropriately.

Ways to help teenagers: 
●    Let them bring comfort items from home.
●    Include them in medical conversations and treatments.
●    Allow them to maintain contact with friends outside of the hospital.
●    Encourage them to ask questions and express their feelings.
●    Be patient with mood swings or other behaviors that come with stress.

Playrooms and special activities

Play and normalcy are important for all children in the hospital. We have playrooms for young children, an activity room for teens, and other activities that can be done at bedside or in groups. Find out more about these services by clicking here.

Contact a child life specialist

For more ways to help your child, please contact our Child Life office at 859-323-6551 or email us at KCHChildlife@uky.edu.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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