Preparing your child for hospital

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Are you feeling 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: children and young people need information and families need to be informed about their child or young person's health care

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.

A prepared child will find it easier to cope with their hospital experience. See information about helping your child manage their health care treatment/procedure.

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

  • it can be a good idea to involve your child in packing a bag to take to hospital, if possible
  • 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 include the other children in your family in discussions - they will also need to know what is happening and why
  • 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 car seats)

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 the Hospital Play Specialists Association website.

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 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:

This page last reviewed 19 May 2014
© Paediatric Society of New Zealand and Starship Foundation 2005 – 2014
Printed on 26 October 2014. Content is regularly updated so please refer to www.kidshealth.org.nz for the most up-to-date version
Content endorsed by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand