Preparing your child for hospital (questions and answers)

Preparing your child for hospital (questions and answers)

Your child may ask questions before going to hospital. Here are some suggestions for talking to your child about their hospital visit. 

Why do I need to go to hospital?

What you say will depend on your child's age and why they are going to hospital. 

I like getting out of the ward in my wheel chairChildren go to a hospital for lots of different reasons. You may go to hospital to be helped because you are hurt, sick or need an operation.

It is a good idea to talk to about why you need to go to hospital.

You might like to bring some favourite things from home - a special toy, a game or a book, your own pyjamas, some comfortable clothes, and don't forget your toothbrush!

Many things in the hospital will be new and interesting, some may seem scary. Let's talk about some of the things that might happen to you.

What if I need to stay the night in hospital?

If you need to stay the night in hospital, you may have your own room or you may share a room with other children. Mums and dads can stay with their children in hospital. Your brothers, sisters and your friends are welcome to visit.

What usually happens first when I go to hospital?

When you go to hospital you will get a hospital bracelet with your name on it, so that everyone will know who you are.

A nurse will take your:

  • temperature with a thermometer that goes in your ear to see how warm you are
  • pulse with a machine that clips on to one of your fingers or toes to see how fast your heart is beating
  • blood pressure by putting a band around your arm, which will give your arm a tight squeeze for a short time
  • weight to find out how much you weigh, so that the doctors know how much medicine to give you

A doctor will come and talk to you and may listen to your heart and chest with a stethoscopeA doctor will come and talk to you and your mum or dad. The doctor might listen to your heart with a stethoscope, and write some information about you in your hospital notes. You can ask the doctor questions.

What if I need a blood test?

You may need a blood test. By taking a small amount of your blood, doctors can find out how best to help you. Your body makes more blood, so you will always have enough.

What if I need an IV?

Some children need an IV or drip when they are in hospital. An IV is a little plastic tube usually placed in the back of your hand with a long line of plastic tubing connected to a bag of special water. This is one way of giving you medicine or liquid. Sometimes an IV is called a drip because the liquid drips slowly through it. The IV will be connected to a small machine which controls the amount of fluid you receive.

What if I need an x-ray?

Breathe in and hold while the x-ray if takenYou may need to have a special picture taken called an x-ray. The x-ray machine is like a big camera that takes pictures of the inside of your body. It will not touch you and it does not hurt. It is important that you do not move or wriggle your body when the pictures are taken.

There are different types of x-ray machines. You may need to swallow some special liquid or you may need a small injection before the x-ray is taken. You will always be told if you are going to have one of these special x- rays.

What happens if I need an operation?

Your parent of caregiver can be with you when you wake up from an operationIf you need an operation you will not be allowed to eat or drink anything for up to six hours beforehand. Your tummy will need to be empty so that you will not be sick during the operation. Your nurse, and perhaps a play specialist, will help you understand what is going to happen.

Before the operation a doctor called an anaesthetist will give you some sleeping medicine (anaesthetic). This medicine is given through a small plastic tube in your hand or by gently holding a mask over your mouth and nose. The anaesthetic will keep you asleep while the doctor (surgeon) does your operation, so you will not feel anything. Doctors and nurses will be with you all the time.

When the operation is over you will wake up in the recovery room. When you are awake enough you will be taken back to your hospital room. In most hospitals, your mum or dad can be with you while you wake up or they will be waiting for you when you return to the ward. You may feel sleepy and sore afterwards. Your nurse can give you medicine to make you feel better, if you need it.

Who are some of the people who will look after me?

While you are in hospital you will meet many new people who will help look after you.

Some of the people you might meet are:

  • a dietitian who may help you with choosing the right kind of food to eat
  • a health care assistant who does all kinds of helpful jobs on the ward
  • an occupational therapist who can help you do things more easily
  • a pharmacist who makes up the medicines
  • a physiotherapist who may help you do some special exercises
  • a speech language therapist who can help you with talking or with a feeding difficulty
  • a ward clerk who is probably the first person you meet, and who can help you and your family find out about the ward and where to find things

Will I be able to play?

Many hospitals have playrooms, and hospital play specialists who can bring play activities to your room.

Playing in the ward

When can I go home?

Your doctor and nurse will talk to you and your mum or dad to decide when it is the best time to go home. You may need to come back to the hospital to see the doctors and nurses at an outpatient clinic, so they can check how you are.

Starship Play and Recreation Department. 1994. All about going to hospital: A book for children. Auckland, N.Z.: Starship Children's Health.

Fernando, Shyami ... et al. 2003. Going to hospital : A book for children. Christchurch, N.Z.: Canterbury DHB and Rainbow Children's Trust.

This page last reviewed 26 May 2014.
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