The hospital can be a scary place for a child but there are things you can do to help a child feel more comfortable:
- Listen to your child. Whether he is feeling scared or sad, it is helpful for a child to express his emotions. A child should feel that he can share his thoughts with you freely and without your overreacting or becoming upset. Ask how he is feeling if your child does not say anything. Be available and supportive. Not only listen to what your child says, but also pay attention to his nonverbal cues.
- Make things predictable. Going to the hospital can be a very scary time for a child – even for a child who has been hospitalized numerous times. Each time a child is hospitalized, it is a new event which comes with a different set of unknowns for him. Anxiety can build based on the unknown or inaccurate beliefs about his hospitalization. Before my son is admitted for an illness or procedure, I explain that he is going to the “big” hospital with the “fun” playroom. My son is less nervous now about getting general anesthesia because I allow him to take some of his comfort items, stuffed animals and blankets – items from home. I refer to some of the operating room equipment as items that superheroes use. For example, I call the mask that is used to administer the sedation , the superhero mask. Now any time he is going to have surgery, he smiles and asks if he will get to wear “the mask.”
- Taking your child to the hospital for a dress rehearsal. Many hospitals, especially children’s hospitals arrange for children to take a tour of the hospital and see the pediatric area where they will be staying. Not only does this make it clear to a child what the hospital setting is like and what to expect, it can also show a child that the pediatric unit can be a very pleasant place filled with colorful pictures, friendly people and super fun activities.
- Give your child a chance to be in control of his situation. When living with chronic illness, we know there are many things that are not within a child’s control. Giving him choices that are possible such as which arm is preferred for the blood draw or allowing him to safely assist with a procedure such as taking his blood pressure can make him feel as if has some sort of control over his situation.
- Encourage your child to see other children who are staying in the hospital. When my son is admitted, I make it a point for him to spend time in the playroom and in the open area where families gather. This has always been a wonderful way to show him that he is not alone in his experience- that there are other children just like him who are sick and that have to spend time in the hospital. Seeing other children around is a great way to make the hospital seem more like a normal environment, which makes it far less scary for him.
- Explain to your child that he or she will not be alone during the hospital stay. Most pediatric hospitals now have rooms where family members can stay. This is helpful to both the child and the parent who may be just as anxious as the child is about the upcoming hospital stay.
- Welcome visitors and special notes from friends and family. When my son had his kidney transplant, his entire kindergarten class made a huge poster full of drawings and notes wishing him well and letting him know how much he would be missed at school. This made him so happy!! He didn’t stop looking at the poster the whole time he was in the hospital. Many pediatric units have visiting therapy dogs. Children who are hospitalized may be feeling sad or depressed and a visit from one of these lovable dogs calms a child and provides comfort to him.
And a visit from the Boston Celtics is pretty cool too!