A stay in the hospital is challenging for children of any age. Heck, adults don’t like it any better! And as a parent, it is difficult to see your child in both emotional and physical pain.

Here are some things that can make the process more bearable.

For Children of All Ages

No matter the age of your child, it helps to be prepared.

  • Be sure to take contact information for all the important people in your life — your boss, family members, friends, your family doctor, baby sitters, etc.
  • Be your child’s advocate. Speak up if you think your child is being treated unjustly. Don’t let the health professionals rush you or your child into anything you aren’t ready for. Ask for special care in difficult situations. For example, if your child is afraid of needles, see if an anesthetic cream can be used to reduce pain.
  • Help your child deal with painful and scary situations. Use a soothing demeanor to encourage a sense of calm. If possible, accompany your child for all procedures, even if you personally feel queasy or uncomfortable. However, don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ll only make things worse, like if your child won’t react well if Mommy passes out!
  • Always carry a notepad and pencil (I know, it’s old-school). Jot down questions the moment you think of them. Your access to the doctors will be limited. Use your time wisely. Be prepared to discuss anything that has happened since the doctor’s last visit.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t understand. If there is a medical term, procedure, or hospital policy that is confusing, speak up.

For Infants and Toddlers

 Even the youngest baby is aware of changes associated with the hospital.

  • You’ll need to make an effort to ensure your baby is getting enough sensory stimulation. Play music, walk the baby to a window for sunlight, roll your baby over and move limbs, provide plenty of loving touches, and bring eye-catching books and toys.
  • Try to keep eating and sleeping habits as normal as possible. Otherwise, your baby will have to readjust when you go home (or worse, your baby won’t readjust and you’ll never have a routine again!).
  • Help your baby know he’s safe. Encourage familiar family members and friends to visit. Bring comfort items from home. Always have an adult family member or friend whom your baby recognizes stay at the hospital.

For Preschoolers and School-Age Children

As children age, they stand to lose more of their daily routines while in the hospital.

  • These inquisitive children will want to know what is going to happen to them. If possible, sit your child down for a brief explanation two to three days before admission. Try to find a movie or book that explains the situation. Or, act out possible scenarios with role playing. You can also use a stuffed animal to point out areas of the body that will be affected.
  • Ask your children about the upcoming hospital stay and their expectations. Children often draw on their imagination to explain what they don’t comprehend. Correct any misunderstandings.
  • Remind your child the hospital stay isn’t a punishment. The child didn’t do anything wrong to warrant the upcoming procedure.
  • Let your kids help with the packing. This ensures their favorite things, the things that bring them the most comfort, are included.
  • Be a positive role model. If you show fear, apprehension, or sadness, your child will pick up on that.
  • Take lots of family photos with you. Surround your ailing youngster with familiar, smiling faces.
  • If your child will be in the hospital for an extended period of time, ask family members and friends to send cards and letters. Ask the hospital’s social worker for appropriate contact information.
  • Encourage your children to play (or at least keep their mind occupied) as much as possible. Not only does this help distract children from any pain or anxiety, it also helps the body stay stimulated during a generally under-stimulated experience.
  • Encourage your child to get dressed every morning. Your child will have the option to wear a gown, but clothes usually help youngsters feel more at ease. Plus, hospital stays often induce a bit of depression, especially long stays. Kids won’t feel the need to get up and exercise their mind and body (or confront their new reality) if they are in their pajamas. Kids should brush their teeth, bathe, and get dressed — just like they would at home. They can still wear comfortable clothes that are appropriate for lounging, but putting on something fresh signifies the start of a new day. Also, changing back into pajamas at night will help make the bedtime routine seem more normal. Also, be sure to pack comfortable shoes or slippers that can easily be put on and taken off.
  • Look for ways to make the child’s surroundings feel home-like. This could be something as simple as bringing a blanket and pillow from home.
  • Talk to the hospital’s social worker, child-life specialist, or nurse regarding food regulations. Can you bring things from home? Be sure to check about special diet requirements; your child might be temporarily cut off from his favorite foods. Usually, the hospital has a patients’ kitchen where you can store foods and beverages. Be sure to mark them with your child’s name.
  • Check about technology. Does the hospital have Wi-Fi? Is it safe to bring pricy tech gadgets (tablets, laptops, etc.)? Will your gamer be able to hook up his favorite game console to the TV? Be sure to download plenty of soothing, relaxing music and uplifting movies before leaving home.
  • Don’t let your kids get overloaded with screen time; be sure to pack plenty of old-school entertainment. Board games, puzzles, books, magazines, crafts, and toys are great quiet activities for a kiddo stuck inside.

With a little preparation and forethought, your child's hospital stay might not be as bad as you think!