Preparing your child for hospital

You will feel better if you know what to expect when your child goes to hospital and have arranged support for yourself and your family/whānau.

Key points

  1. It is important to give children information simply and truthfully, in words they understand.
  2. Tell them that they will be going to hospital and what they may expect to happen there.
  3. A prepared child will find it easier to cope with their hospital experience.

What if I am worried or anxious about my child's hospital visit?

These are normal and natural feelings. But, 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 the care of any other children you have.

What should I tell my child about their hospital visit?

It is important to give children information simply and truthfully, in words they understand. Tell them that they will be going to hospital and what they may expect to happen there. Reassure your child that someone will be able to stay with them in hospital. A prepared child will find it easier to cope with their hospital experience. See information about helping your child manage their treatment.

What should I find out before my child's hospital visit?

Before your child's hospital stay, find out as much as possible about what will happen, such as the following:

  • How long will your child need to stay?
  • Can you be present during procedures such as x-rays and scans?
  • Can brothers and sisters visit at any time?
  • What facilities are there for you to stay with your child?
  • If your child needs an anaesthetic, can you be with them when the anaesthetic is given, and in the recovery room afterward?
  • 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 should I bring for my child's hospital visit?

It can be a good idea to involve your child in packing a bag to take to hospital. Don't forget to include the other children in your family in discussions – they will also need to know what is happening and why.

Examples of things to bring for your child's hospital visit  
  • Clothes: children can usually wear their own clothes or nightwear.
  • Include something familiar and comforting, such as a cuddly, a favourite toy or game, pictures of family.
  • If your child has special needs, you will need to bring any mobility aids and any other resources that they normally need or use.
  • Clothing, a book and money for the person who is to stay with your child. 
  • Car seat, if applicable, for when your child leaves hospital.

How can play help my child in hospital?

Play is familiar and reassuring. It's how children make sense of the world around them. 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.

How can I make a hospital visit easier for my child?

It is important to be with your child as much as you can 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, stay 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. Talk to your child about timelines that make sense to them. For example, tell them that you'll be back after lunch or as long as it takes to watch a favourite movie.

What can I expect once my 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 that  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 should I do if I am worried about my child after their hospital visit?

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

  • your family doctor
  • the charge nurse or social worker on your child's hospital ward
  • PlunketLine on 0800 933 922
  • Healthline on 0800 611 116.
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Content

Content courtesy of KidsHealth NZ which has been created by a partnership between the Paediatric Society of New Zealand (PSNZ) and the Starship Foundation, supported and funded by the Ministry of Health