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Preparing Your Child for a Hospital Stay

Here are some age-specific tips from our Child Life specialists to help you get your child ready for a hospital stay.

  • Be honest with your child about coming to the hospital.
  • Younger children (ages 2 to 4 years) may think a hospital stay is a form of punishment. Be sure to let your child know he or she did nothing wrong to cause them to come to the hospital.
  • Offer concrete but simple explanations of what will happen at the hospital, especially if your child is 4 to 6 years old. These young children often have imaginative thoughts and misconceptions about many aspects of the hospital.
  • Choose a quiet time to talk to your child. Allow enough time so that your child can process their feelings and ask questions without feeling rushed.
  • Ask what your child knows about being in the hospital. This can help you understand what you need to explain to your child.
  • Use gentle, but honest language. For example, your child may ask, "Is it going to hurt?" You might say, "I can’t promise that it won’t hurt. It may feel uncomfortable. Let’s think of some ways to get through it if you don't like how something feels." This allows you to talk to your child in advance about coping strategies, such as deep breathing, talking about a favorite place, counting or squeezing hands.
  • Give your child realistic choices to give him or her a sense of control and mastery over the experience. Options might be as simple as having your child pick out which clothes or favorite stuffed animals to pack.
  • Let your child know that it is okay to feel many different feelings. These feelings may come up at any time before, during or after the hospital visit. Children must feel safe in expressing these feelings.
  • Listen to your child. Be receptive to your child’s behaviors, questions and moods.