Whether your child is facing a major surgery or a minor outpatient procedure, going to the hospital can be intimidating. She may have had some unpleasant experiences with tests at the doctor’s office, or she may be very young and confused about what’s happening around her. Whatever the situation, here are some simple ways you can help ease her mind.
Even a young child can understand some basic information about her hospital stay, and should be encouraged to talk about it with you. For example, you might tell your 4-year-old that he is going to the hospital so the doctor can help him to walk better. Explain that he will make some new friends (the nurses) and that he will be given some medicine to help him fall asleep. Reassure him that you will be there when he wakes up.
An older child may benefit from more information about the treatment or procedure, including a realistic expectation of any pain or limitations she will have immediately after she wakes up and in the days or weeks to follow.
Call the hospital in advance and speak with the nurse in charge of the surgery or treatment department and the nurse in charge of the recovery unit. Ask them to walk you through the typical procedures you and your child will have to follow once you arrive and when he is in recovery. Knowing this information beforehand will help prepare yourself and your child for this new experience.
For example, if your 7-year-old child is going to need to stay in a recovery area for a long time, find out if visitors are allowed in this area. Also, be sure you understand what tests, medication and procedures your child will have both before and after the treatment or procedure.
If your child will be admitted to the hospital for testing, special care or a lengthy treatment, meet with the hospital’s social worker or child specialist and find out what resources they can provide to your child and your family.
Ask if the hospital has special recreation areas, gardens, or even special art rooms that your child can visit while staying in the hospital. If so, make arrangements with your doctor and the hospital staff beforehand to visit these areas regularly so that your child has something to look forward to.
A young child may feel comforted by her favorite stuffed animal or a photo of her pet while she is in the hospital. Check with hospital policies, as some hospitals may not allow these items in certain sterile areas.
For children staying longer in the hospital, decorate their room with photos and other personal items. Encourage visitors to bring something other than flowers or cards, like a new book or something they can play with.
Staying in the hospital for a long period of time can be very disruptive, especially to a young child. Stick to routines you had at home, if at all possible. This could include watching a favorite TV show each day at the same time, eating meals together as a family, having a regular bed-time story and performing daily hiegene routines.
Another way to keep your child centered and feeling secure is to enforce the same rules in the hospital as you would at home. While it is tempting to let all rules slide because your child is uncomfortable or frightened, setting expectations can give your child a sense of control over her environment and lets her know that you are still a vital part of her care.
When a child is in the hospital, it’s common to have lots of friends and family visit during the first few days. Sadly, those visits taper off as time goes by, just when your child needs them the most. Arrange for regular visits from his friends and classmates each day.
While you do have to follow certain procedures and policies at the hospital, you are also still the parent and should have an active role in her care. Ask the doctors and nurses questions, and stay informed of your child’s progress. Bathe, feed, rock, and generally provide everyday care for your child whenever possible, especially for young children.
Know When to Step Out of the Way
While you should be informed of all procedures and take an active role in your child’s care, there are times when you must let the doctors and nurses do their work without your interference. This can be during an emergency, or it can also be during a simple conversation with your child. Know when to step back and let someone else care for your child.
Encourage an Active Role from Your Child
Ask your child’s doctor to have a conversation with your child about his care. This is a great opportunity for your child to feel like she has some control over his situation. Encourage him to ask questions or to express worries to his doctor and nurses. Even a young child should be encouraged to interact with his health care providers to lessen the fear of being helpless.
Stay by Your Child’s Side
If your child is having an outpatient procedure or treatment, express your desire to stay with her throughout the preoperative period and to be there immediately when she wakes up.
When your child is in the hospital for a longer period of time, it can be difficult to stay with him all the time due to work schedules or caring for siblings. If possible, take shifts with your partner or another family member to make sure your child has a companion.
While you should try to be with your child often, also remember to take care of yourself. If your child is sleeping well at night, go home and get some rest in your own bed so that you can be at your best the next day. Take coffee and snack breaks frequently throughout the day and be sure to get some fresh air.