A hospital can be a scary place for an adult and is even scarier for a child. There are ways to help minimize the trauma of a child's hospital stay. There are a few things you can do to prepare a child for a hospital stay and to reduce the stress and strain of a hospital stay. One of the most important steps you can do as a parent is to stay calm. This will help reassure them. If the hospital stay is planned you should have as much information as you can about the procedures, the schedule of tests, the hospital policies and the support available to you. Find out ahead of time what tests will be done, how they are done and when they will be done. Once you are prepared for what will happen you can better prepare your child. If you are unsure how to explain something to your child ask the doctor for advice. You need to talk openly with your child, be honest and reassuring. Hospitals will have trained staff members including nurses, social workers and Child Life Specialists, to assist you if needed.
Hospital policies vary from hospital to hospital. The pediatric units of many hospitals will have very lenient visiting hours especially for parents or guardians. Spend as much time as you can with your child, sleeping there if allowed. Separation anxiety can be very high for a hospitalized child so find out who else can visit and see if visits can be staggered. Some hospitals, depending on the nature of the hospital stay allow your child to wear their own pajamas. Find out what items from home your child can bring. Bring a couple family photos, a stuffed animal and some quiet activities.
Many hospitals, especially larger hospitals and children's hospitals, have a large support staff available to assist you and your child. Many will have a staff member called a Child Life Specialist; their function is to help your child. They can help explain procedures to your child, act as a liaison between you and hospital staff and can help ensure you and your child get the support needed. To relate to your child, a child life specialist may make use of many different items including coloring books, dolls, playgroups and more. Take advantage of all the resources they have to offer you. Hospital social workers, nurses, therapists and the hospital chaplain all should have training in working with children.
A trip to the emergency room of a hospital can also be traumatic but there are ways to prepare for it or lessen the stress. For a child who is old enough to understand about visits to doctors discuss with them the purpose of a hospital and an emergency room. This is best done when a child is well. Simply explain that emergency rooms are for faster treatment and testing and are always open even when their usual doctor is not. Let them know that if they child have a sudden illness or are injured a hospital can help them just like their usual doctor.
In the event that you have to take your child to the emergency room reassure them that they will get what they need to get better. Try to remain calm yourself. Be sure to explain to your child what is happening in terms that they can understand. The staff of an emergency room is trained to work with children. Be sure the nurses and doctors acknowledge your child as a person, and that they take time to explain to you and to your child about the procedures being done.
Don't be shy about asking questions and try to make your child comfortable. If your child is thirsty, ask the nurse if they can have a drink of water. If they're cold ask for a blanket or sheet. While you do not want to pester or interfere you need to be your child's advocate. Let the hospital staff do their jobs and you do yours. Your job is to be calm and to support and reassure your child.
Hopefully you will not have to make many trips to hospitals or emergency rooms. But just in case, be prepared, stay calm and ask questions.