Preparing for hospital (information for parents / caregivers)

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Worried or anxious?

With adequate preparation, a stay in hospital can be a positive experienceThese are normal and natural feelings. However, with adequate preparation, a stay in hospital can be a positive experience. You will feel more at ease if you are well informed and have arranged support for yourself and your family. A relative or family friend may be able to help with visiting or with care of any other children you have.

For more information about being well informed, see the following information on this website:

What to tell your child?

It is important to give children information simply and truthfully, in words they understand. They need to be told that they will be going to hospital and what they may expect to happen there.

You might also find the following fact sheet helpful:

Information to ask before going to hospital

Before admission find out as much as possible about what will happen, such as:

  • how long will your child need to stay?
  • can a parent be present during procedures such as x-rays and scans?
  • can brothers and sisters visit at any time?
  • what facilities are there for parents?
  • if an anaesthetic will be needed, can a parent be with the child:
    – when the anaesthetic is given?
    – in the recovery room afterwards?
  • if your child has special needs, is the hospital aware of these and what support is available?
  • is there a pre-admit or play preparation programme to help children understand what will happen?

What to bring

  • talk with your child about what to take
  • include something familiar and comforting, such as a cuddly, a favourite toy or game, pictures of family. Children can usually wear their own clothes or nightwear if they wish
  • don't forget to bring clothing, a book and money for the person who is to stay with the child
  • if your child has special needs, you will need to bring any mobility aids and any other resources that they normally require or use
  • car seat, if applicable, for discharge (see child restraints (car seats)
  • don’t forget to include the other children in your family in discussions; they will also need to know what is happening and why

How can play help?

Play is familiar and reassuring. In hospital it helps children to learn and develop and to feel less anxious. It also helps them to express their feelings, understand what is happening and cope with treatment.

Many hospitals have play specialists who can give you suggestions about how best to prepare your child.

In some hospitals there is a hospital play specialist
 Play helps children express their feelings

For more information about play specialists, see:

How to make a hospital visit easier for your child

It is important for you to be with your childIt is important to be with your child as  much as you are able so that they continue to feel loved and safe. Younger children especially will cope with the hospital experience best if a parent or other trusted person stays with them.

If you have to leave, tell your child that you are going, and leave confidently, even if this causes distress. Make sure your nurse knows that you are leaving and when you will be back.

What about my child's early childhood education?

Most hospital play specialist services provide early childhood education programmes for children who are patients. Their brothers and sisters can usually participate too. This makes it possible for your young child to continue with their normal early childhood education. There is no charge for these services in hospitals.

For more information, see:

What about my child's school work?

If your child usually goes to school and is in hospital for more than two weeks, a teacher from one of the three Regional Health Schools in New Zealand can work with your child.  

Regional Health School teachers work with students with high health needs both in hospital and in the community.  

The criteria for accessing the Regional Health Schools (in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) are:

  • ten or more consecutive days absence from school due to high health needs, and / or
  • six or more admissions to hospital in one year, and / or
  • a total of 40 school days absence because of high health needs

If your child doesn't meet any of the criteria for accessing the Regional Health Schools, then their teaching remains the responsibility of the school in which they are enrolled. You could talk to your child's usual teacher about arranging some work once your child is able to manage this.

For more information about Regional Health Schools, including the criteria for accessing them, see:

What to expect once your child is home again

When children go home, it is common for them – and for their brothers and sisters – to need extra love, patience and attention until they feel secure again.

It is likely that your child’s behaviour may change for a time. They may worry more about things in general and particularly about their health or about minor injuries. They may be more "clingy" or babyish. Eating and sleeping habits may change. They may be fearful in situations which remind them of hospital or of illness. All of these are very common reactions, and should pass in time.

Opportunities to share their feelings, to talk about their experience if they want to, and to play "hospitals" will help. Older children may also like to draw pictures or make a book about their hospital stay.

What to do if you are worried

If you are worried or if your child’s changed behaviour continues beyond a few weeks, you could contact:

Where to go for more information and support

CAB (Citizen’s Advice Bureau)
If you are worried about your child after they have come home from hospital and you want to contact a counselling service, you can contact your local CAB  for details of local counselling services, as these differ from centre to centre. There is also a CAB Multi-lingual Information Service.
Call free on 0800 FOR CAB (0800 367 222)

Hospital Play Specialists Association
Play specialists may be able to advise you on how to help your child cope with illness, treatment and hospitalisation.
Postal address: P O Box 26637, Epsom, Auckland

Plunket is New Zealand's leading provider of Well Child and family health services in New Zealand. It offers parenting education and support. Plunket Karitane Family Centres provide extra help and support on parenting matters such as breast feeding, sleeping, child behaviour, parent / family needs, and other child health concerns. Call the Family Centre in your area to find out what services they offer. For your local Plunket office or Plunket Karitane Family Centre, check the Plunket website or look under Plunket in your phone book. Plunket also offers a specialist early childhood health telephone help service. It is available to all families, whanau and caregivers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call PlunketLine free on 0800 933 922.

Postal address: PO Box 5474, Wellington 6145
PlunketLine: 0800 933 922
National office phone: 64 4 471 0177
National office fax: 64 4 471 0190

Telephone advice - Healthline and PlunketLine

  • ring PlunketLine on 0800 933 922 if you have child health and parenting questions or queries. For example, if you have questions about such issues as parenting, crying, sleeping, your child's growth, development, behaviour, immunisation, breastfeeding, nutrition, oral health, safety or want to know more about the Well Child / Tamariki Ora programme
  • call Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you need advice about a child of any age who is unwell or hurt, or has any symptoms of sickness. Healthline provides a full range of telephone triage and health advice for children (and adults)
  • both services are available 24 hours and are free to callers throughout New Zealand, including from a mobile phone
This page last reviewed 20 October 2010
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2014
Printed on 25 April 2014. Content is regularly updated so please refer to for the most up-to-date version
Content endorsed by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand