How can I help my child prepare for a hospital stay?

Whether it's a life threatening emergency or a simple procedure, supporting a child in hospital can be a stressful experience for all involved. Read more.

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by Gary Andrews

Last update 15 Apr 2021

Overview

Whether you have private hospital cover or not, there may be a time when you need to prepare your child for a hospital admission. This guest post from Rebecca at The Lighter Side of Parenting offers some great practical tips for how to go about this.

Whether it's a life threatening emergency or a simple procedure, supporting a child in hospital can be a stressful experience for all involved.

Here are a few ways you can help the little ones in your life through their hospital stay.

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Helping your own child

Tell the truth

Trust is crucial. And telling kids what's coming means you can prepare together.

Of course, telling the 'truth' to a child doesn't mean giving them every clinical detail.

You know your child best.

Try to translate what's happening in words they can understand.

When my four year old needed an emergency MRI under a general anaesthetic, I told him:

  • the doctors were going to give him special medicine that would put him to sleep for a couple of hours
  • they would take photos of his brain while he was asleep
  • It wouldn't hurt
  • I would be there when he woke up and when he went to sleep.

I told him this a couple of hours before the procedure and reminded him again before staff came to get us.

Bring comforts from home

iPads, DVDs, teddies, books, favourite pens and colouring books can all make your little one more comfortable by creating a familiar environment.

Take note of how much storage space you'll have (probably not much) before lugging a whole suitcase in though!

Ask questions; write down the answers

Medical staff will try to give you plenty of information about what's happening.

If you don't understand, ask questions until you do.

If you're worried about remembering it all, write it down.

Don't expect good behaviour

Your child is scared, sick and possibly in pain.

Don't be embarrassed if your child throws the mother of all tantrums or refuses to cooperate with anyone.

This is pretty normal.

The doctors and nurses understand this.

My son refused to eat any of the hospital food so we brought other food into him.

A nurse asked if he was eating normally.

I said he refused to eat anything which came on a hospital tray almost on principle.

She shrugged and said most of the kids do the same.

Remember to ask the doctors about any dietary restrictions before giving your child food from home.

Give yourself a break

It's stressful enough being in hospital yourself but when you have to stay calm for your family and your child as well, it can really take its toll.

If someone visits and your child is happy to stay with them, go and get a cup of tea. By yourself.

Helping someone else's child

There are dozens of ways you can help a friend or family member's child through their hospital stay and many of them happen away from the hospital.

At the hospital

  • Visit -- your sunny presence can make a big difference to the long days. Check with the parents first to make sure it's ok to come and keep your visit short.
  • Don't expect the child to be awake, cooperative or on their best behaviour. Same goes for the parents. Remember it's not a normal social visit.
  • Bring a gift for the child -- consider an activity such as a puzzle or colouring book, depending on their illness.
  • Bring a gift for the parent -- magazines, snack food, even a scented soap if they're staying overnight in hospital.
  • Give the gift of time -- if you know the child well and they're comfortable with you, send mum or dad out to the hospital cafeteria for a short break. If they don't want to, don't push.

Around the house

Anything you'd usually do in your own house probably needs to be done at the sick child's house. If you want to give practical help consider:

  • cooking a meal
  • cleaning the house
  • mowing the lawns
  • washing and ironing clothes
  • picking up/dropping off any siblings from school/daycare/kinder
  • minding any siblings while mum and dad go to the hospital.

Don't be offended if you're not showered with thanks and gratitude immediately.

Friends and family may be in shock, or simply stressed and not responding as they usually would.

Their focus will be on their sick child.

I know our own experience of our son being in hospital was made easier by the wonderful help we had from family and friends both in the hospital and at home.

It allowed us to focus on our sick little boy without worrying about the day to day chores.

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This guide is opinion only and should not be taken as medical or financial advice. Check with a financial professional before making any decisions.