Preparing Your Child

Hospitalization and medical experiences can be confusing and stressful for children, teens and their families. It is very common for young people and their families to have many questions when they are scheduled for surgery or hospitalization. As a parent, you play an important role in helping your child or teenager cope with medical experiences. We have found that when children are given opportunities to cope successfully with medical experiences, they may see themselves as more capable, more in control, and more reassured. This success often leads to a more positive sense of self, as well as a healthier regard for medical procedures in general.

Before talking with your child about an upcoming medical experience, familiarize yourself with his or her condition or illness by discussing it with your child's physician, reading books, watching videos, or looking at websites. The more you understand the tests and treatments associated with your child's condition and the hospital's programs and procedures, the more you can focus on supporting your child during his or her medical experience.

Although it is important to let your child know what to expect from an upcoming hospital stay or medical procedure, it is just as important to assure your child that he or she will not be alone. Your child should know that you and other family members will be at the hospital or clinic as much as possible and that the nurse and doctors will be available at all times.

Remember, as you discuss the hospital and surgery that not only your words, but nonverbal signals communicate your assurance: your tone of voice, facial expressions and gestures convey powerful messages. If you appear fearful, your child is likely to feel fearful, regardless of the words you use to explain things.

Each child responds to new experiences in a unique way depending on his or her personality, language development, and ability to understand information. However, there are some universal issues that arise for children at different ages when faced with the prospect of surgery or hospitalization. Here are some helpful age-related guidelines:

Your Infant... (Birth-1 year)
Your Toddler...(1-3 years)
Your Preschooler...(3-5 years)
Your School-aged Child...(6-12 years)
Your Teen...(13+ years)

Your Infant... (Birth-1 year)

Worries that infants may have in the hospital include unfamiliar environment, fear of strangers, pain, interrupted routines, and separation from family. Here are some ways to help your infant with the hospital visit:

Preparation:

  • Prepare yourself.  Infants can sense a parent's anxiety level and become more agitated. Preparing yourself for the hospital visit may ease worries and help you and your child feel more comfortable.
  • Be the main source of comfort for your child. Hold, comfort, and rock your infant just as you would at home. If you have questions about medical equipment and holding your child, ask your nurse or doctor.
  • Try to stick to the routines your infant follows at home.
  • Bring a favorite stuffed animal or a blanket to help comfort your child.

Coping, Distraction, and Support:

  • Sing lullabies or play music.
  • Hold and rock your infant. Stroke your infant's face, arms, or legs.
  • Talk in soothing tones.
  • Provide comfort items (blanket, stuffed animal).
  • Provide items your infant can watch (mirrors, mobiles, crib toys, bubbles).
  • Shake rattles or plastic keys.

Medical Play:

  • Let infants explore (mouthing, grasping, touching) and play with real medical equipment.
  • Play peek-a-boo with doctor hats and masks.
  • Let your infant watch you play with medical equipment and dolls.

Your Toddler...(1-3 years)

Worries that toddlers may have in the hospital include separation from family, unfamiliar environment and people, loss of independence, pain, and fear of needles. Here are some ways to help your toddler with the hospital visit:

Preparation:

  • Read books about the hospital.
  • Talk about going to the hospital one to two days before your child's visit.
  • Add play doctor kits to regular play activities.
  • Explain things in a simple way that your toddler will understand.
  • Assure your toddler that you will stay with him or her as much as possible. If your toddler needs to leave you for any reason, it will be for a short time, and you will be there when he or she returns.

Coping, Distraction, and Support:

  • Blow bubbles and pinwheels.
  • Sing songs, ABC's, and nursery rhymes.
  • Read sound books, pop-up books, and counting books.
  • Hold and comfort your child.
  • Provide comfort items from home.

Medical Play:

  • Play peek-a-boo with doctor hats and masks.
  • Let your child explore and play with medical equipment.
  • Play doctor with medical equipment and dolls. Add some real medical equipment to a play doctor kit.
  • Water play with syringes in the bathtub.

Your Preschooler...(3-5 years)

Worries that preschoolers may have in the hospital include pain, fear of needles, seeing procedures as punishment, fear of body harm, separation from family, and confusion about being in the hospital.  Here are some ways to help your preschooler with the hospital visit:

Preparation:

  • Talk about going to the hospital, in simple words, a few days before your child's visit.
  • Explain to your child that going to the hospital is to help make him or her feel better, not because he or she did anything wrong.
  • Read books about going to the hospital.
  • Add doctor kits to regular play activities.
  • Give your child lots of time to ask questions and show understanding.

Coping, Distraction, and Support:

  • Sing ABC's, nursery rhymes, songs, and count.
  • Blow bubbles and pinwheels.
  • Read sound books and pop-up books.
  • Watch a glitter wand or water wheel.
  • Provide comfort items (blanket, stuffed animal).
  • Talk about some of your child's favorite things (animals, toys, games, etc.).

Medical Play:

  • Make medical collages with things found in the hospital (band-aids, gauze, tongue depressors, cotton balls, etc).
  • Syringe painting (filling syringes with paint and squirting on paper) and water play with syringes.
  • Play and explore with medical equipment and dolls.

Your School-aged Child...(6-12 years)

Worries that school-aged children may have in the hospital include loss of privacy, pain, fear of body harm, fear of death, and a loss of independence. Here are some ways to help your school-aged child cope with the hospital visit:

Preparation:

  • Start preparing for a hospital stay/surgery one to two weeks before your child's visit.
  • Let your child pack his or her own suitcase and pick things to bring from home.
  • Encourage your child to talk about feelings and worries to you and hospital staff.
  • Read books about going to the hospital. 
  • Talk about things your child may feel and see and what will happen in the hospital. Always be honest!
  • Explain why your child is going to the hospital and why he or she needs surgery or other procedures.

Coping, Distraction, and Support:

  • Look at an I Spy book, I Spy board, or glitter wand.
  • Play hand-held games.
  • Talk about a favorite vacation place, activity, etc.
  • Practice slow, deep-breathing and relaxing.
  • Listen to favorite music.
  • Squeeze a stress ball or hold someone's hand.

Medical Play:

  • Make a collage or sculpture with medical materials.
  • Paint with syringes.
  • Write a story or poem about going to the hospital.
  • Design tongue depressor picture frames.
  • Play and explore with real medical equipment and dolls.

Your Teen...(13+ years)

Worries teens may have in the hospital include loss of privacy, separation from friends, body image issues, and loss of independence. Here are some ways to help your teen with the hospital visit:

Preparation:

  • Include your teen in making decisions about surgery or  hospital stay when appropriate.
  • Ask your teen's opinion. Include your teen when talking about surgery or a hospital stay.
  • Read books or articles about the hospital.
  • Encourage your teen to think about questions and concerns for his or her doctor and to write them down.

Coping, Distraction, and Support:

  • Respect your teen's privacy.
  • Encourage your teen to keep in touch with friends.
  • Play hand-held games.
  • Talk with your teen about school, friends, a favorite memory, etc.
  • Practice slow, deep-breathing and relaxing.
  • Squeeze a stress ball or hold someone's hand.
  • Listen to favorite music or watch movies.

Medical Play:

  • Explore and ask questions about medical equipment.
  • Create artwork inspired by the hospital.
  • Write songs, poems, and stories about the hospital.
  • Make sculptures and collages out of medical materials.

Books to Help You Prepare

Doctor Visits

  • Big Bird Goes to the Doctor by Tish Sommers. Western Publishing Company, Inc., 1986.
  • A Doctor's Tools by Kenny DeSantis. Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1985.
  • Going to the Doctor by Fred Rogers. Family Connections, Inc.

Hospitalization and Surgery

  • Going to the Hospital, by Fred Rogers. GP. Putman's Sons, Inc., 1988.
  • The Hospital Book by James Howe. Crown Publishers, 1981.
  • A Hospital Story by Sara bonnett Stein. Walker and Company, 1974.
  • KoKo Bear's Big Earache by Vicki Lansky. Book Peddlers, 1990.
  • Rita Goes to the Hospital by Martine Davison. Random House, 1992.

In addition to the above printed resources, Child Life Services has created the following preparation guides below. We suggest parents read the books first and then share them with their child. This way you'll be ready for most questions your child will ask. 

If you or your child has further questions, please contact the child life department for more information by emailing childlifeprogram@ghs.org or calling (864) 455-7846.

CT Scan

MRI

VCUG--Voiding Cystourethrogram

Surgery