Strategies for Your Child’s Hospital Stay 1

If parenting isn’t a snap on an average day, it can truly be a marathon when your child needs to be in the hospital. Whether a short one-time stay or a more serious, lengthy situation, here are pragmatic and coping tips to prepare for and help your child through a hospital stay based on my experiences. Related articles that might be helpful are Taking Care of Yourself When Your Child Is in the Hospital and When Your Child is Having Surgery.


Preparing ahead of time

  • Get well  balloonsFind out as much as you can about what to expect about the medical situation and the hospital you will be staying at. If time allows, ask questions about hospital facilities and what they do to make children as comfortable as possible. Ask about logistics like parking and whether they have laundry or kitchen facilities.

  • Many children’s hospitals encourage bringing your child’s own pajamas if that will make them more comfortable. We found that short sleeves were a must because of the IV, but also brought his cozy bathrobe and a zip up sweatshirt that we could drape over his shoulders in bed or on our jaunts around the hospital (whether to get medical tests or for fun roaming to places like the special kids rec room).

  • Most children’s hospitals encourage/want a parent to sleep over, so ask if they have a sleeping chair or cot for you and if they provide linens for it. (Note: if you’ll be there long you still might want to bring your own.)

  • Check on insurance, for example making sure that you are using a facility and doctors who are in network. Calling your insurance company ahead of time to be clear on their guidelines of what is covered and what needs pre-approval can save you a world of headaches. Write down the name, date and time of who you spoke with just in case you have any problems later.

  • Bring some of your child’s favorite loveys, books, portable toys (avoiding small pieces that could get lost), and entertainment like a tablet. Even older children might have some beloved comfort items. For younger children a play doctors kit may help them cope. You can play act with the doctors kit and a doctors jacket or outfit ahead of time to help prepare them.

  • Many hospitals have free wi-fi but if you have prior notice before heading to the hospital, it’s helpful to add new apps and movies at home where you might have much faster speed than at the hospital.

  • Consider getting a small gift or two for your child as a distraction, being practical about how sick they are and what they will be up to doing.

  • Depending on how long you are likely to be in the hospital, bring some favorite healthy foods. Hospital food gets old fast and ironically is often not very healthful or appealing.

  • If you have more than one child, plan how you will care for your other child(ren). If a family member or close friend can take care of them that will be very helpful and ensure they get special attention. Or ask the hospital about having your children stay over with you as a family.

  • Think about who can be a support network including who you would like to have visit you in the hospital or help you with various things. Make sure your child’s preschool or school, pediatrician, and other key people in your child’s life know about the situation. Clergy will often try to visit you in the hospital if you let your church or synagogue know your child is in the hospital.


Making your child as comfortable as possible

  • Discuss how the hospital staff manages and most importantly minimizes children’s pain.  How do they assess pain quickly so they can ensure giving the right medications to keep children comfortable without overusing meds? Numbing cream can be applied before inserting an IV but usually needs time to work so be sure to ask to avoid situations when medical staff may feel rushed by schedule.

  • Many children’s hospitals have child-life specialists who can help entertain children, prepare them for procedures, and discuss how to manage pain and stress. Other staff such as social workers can help identify resources and therapists to help your child.

  • Use soothing or favorite playful music to help your child relax.

  • Each morning discuss the day’s plans with the nursing staff and at rounds so you can help prepare your child and plan his or her day.

  • Keep to any routines you can, such as your bedtime rituals.

  • Depending on the length of the stay, your child’s personality and age, think about visitors they might love to see. However balance it against whether they are well enough and what else is planned that day such as medical tests.

  • If your child’s situation is serious, avoid adult discussions about his or her prognosis in front of him whether with doctors, your partner or friend. Do share age appropriate information with your child.


Showing appreciation

Take the moment to say thank you and chat with everyone from the doctors, nurses and nursing assistants to the housekeepers. What they do isn’t easy and building a positive relationship can only help your child. Especially if you will be going to the same hospital unit repeatedly. If there is someone whose behavior or competence level concerns you then find the right person to discuss it with but also look for opportunities to compliment the many people who will have contact with your child who are doing a great job. It is surprising how few people say thank you so they will especially appreciate it. Don’t be “that Mom.” The other side benefit? When you need help with something from emptying the trash an extra time to getting a referral to a therapist best suited to your child’s needs.


What are your tips for helping children cope with being in the hospital?



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