Hospitalizing your child can be hard on both of you. While you may be concerned about the medical implications, your child may be more anxious because of the change of scenery and routine. While some hospital stays, like tonsillectomies, can be planned in advance, others are sudden and unexpected. Regardless of the reason for hospitalization, there are steps you can take to make the stay a little smoother.
If the hospital stay is a planned event, you have the benefit of being able to talk to your child about what to expect. Be honest and answer questions as well as you can. Don’t tell your child that it won’t hurt, because some procedures more than likely will. Play doctor with as many real medical supplies as you can get (like stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, or surgical masks), check out relevant books from the library to read together, and arrange a visit to the hospital before check-in day. Children under the age of four live in the moment, so two to three days’ notice is generally sufficient. Older kids, however, need more processing time and should be told in advance. Regardless, don’t wait until you’re walking through the hospital doors before you tell them what’s happening.
While in the hospital, try to maintain as much consistency as possible. Bring favorite and familiar items from home, like pajamas, toys, books, blankets, pillows, and snacks. Pack a bag full of quiet play items that will help pass the time such as coloring books and crayons, games, or simple craft kits. Just remember to check with the doctors and nurses to make sure that what you’re bringing won’t compromise your child’s treatment.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too. Bring something to help you pass the time, and take breaks when you need to. Taking care of yourself will help you take better care of your child. Wear comfortable clothes. Bring a book. Pack snacks so that you can avoid the vending machine or the hospital cafeteria.
You are arguably the most important partner in your child’s health care, and you are his or her most important advocate. Listen to what the doctors and nurses tell you, and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand or are uncertain. If something doesn’t seem right, speak up. Doctors and nurses are human too and can make mistakes. Be polite, be calm, but be active in your child’s treatment.