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Communicating With Your Child for a Hospital Stay

Children may ask about the difference between an inpatient and outpatient stay, and it is essential that parents understand this difference.

Younger children can practice using medical equipment at home with dolls, stuffed animals or other toys. Furthermore, caregivers should give their charges a tour of the hospital prior to admission.

Make it a Family Event

Young children often struggle to comprehend health-related experiences they come across, such as getting their haircut, visiting the doctor for a checkup or receiving surgery. Communication should take place throughout this hospital experience so everyone is on the same page and understands what’s taking place.

Children learn best when information is presented in an accessible manner, making sense of it through stories or books about going to hospital or even just keeping a journal of their experience. By explaining what a hospital stay will entail in terms of how it will feel, look or smell can help children to prepare. Reading books about going to hospital or keeping a diary about health care experiences are also useful ways of helping prepare young ones.

Play is also an excellent way to introduce your children to medical equipment and the health care experience they’ll be having soon, such as using medical kits on dolls or stuffed animals to prepare them for when they actually enter a hospital. Open discussions about your upcoming hospital stay provide an ideal chance to address any fears or worries they might be harboring about being admitted – plus give you an opportunity to address those worries directly!

Whenever hospital policy allows, try and room-in with your child as much as possible; this will give them a sense of normalcy and comfort during an extended stay in hospital. If this is not feasible, speak to their healthcare team regarding visiting hours and ways they may provide comfort during treatments.

As your child spends time in hospital, they may see many other sick or injured people that can be upsetting for them, particularly if they themselves feel fearful of going in. Reassure your child that it’s not their fault they need to see this and that doctors will do all they can to make things better for them. If you can’t visit directly at hospital try keeping in contact via phone calls, texts or social media; alternatively assign someone from the family as the liaison who keeps everyone informed on your child’s status updates from all sources.

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Talk about the Diagnosis

Diagnosis can be difficult for children and families to discuss openly; however, it is vital that families broach this subject as soon as possible in an age-appropriate manner. Starting a dialogue can build trust between both of you while helping the child better comprehend his or her situation and deepening your bond together.

Your approach will depend on your child’s age and capacity for processing information; generally speaking, though, begin by discussing their medical condition in terms they can understand. For example, if they have autism you could explain that their brain works differently from others’ and why some things come more easily for them while other areas pose challenges; you could also reassure your child that his or her medical condition was not caused by anything they did or didn’t do themselves.

Help your children understand what they will see when visiting their parent at the hospital, such as medical equipment and tubes. As this can be frightening and disorienting for kids, take photos or videos of your parent’s room before you visit and show these to your child beforehand. Instruct your children about what might happen when visiting, such as bruises, bandages or scars being present but that you still love them just the same.

Once your child understands their diagnosis and medical needs, you can open communication about how they’re feeling and their hopes for the future. This can be an invaluable tool to boost self-worth while cultivating understanding and advocacy.

Parents need to remember the importance of taking care of themselves throughout this journey, particularly if they’re experiencing similar emotions as their child. Making time for exercise, sleep and healthy food choices will help alleviate your stress while setting an example for their own wellbeing.

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Let Your Child Know You’re There for Them

When your child is hospitalized, it’s essential that they know you will always be there for them. If for any reason you need to leave, always inform them when and why you will return as quickly as possible. Children can become upset when their parents leave; leaving something special like their favorite toy or blanket behind may help ease this distress. Likewise, having access to their care team–doctors and nurses who will treat them–can provide comfort. You can request to be present during what’s known as rounding; when all team members meet together every morning to discuss and collaborate their day’s care plans while asking any pertinent questions and advocating on behalf of your child if present during rounding.

If your child has questions about his/her diagnosis, provide them with as much information as possible using age-appropriate language. Make use of all five senses when explaining what your child will experience – how it will feel, smell, sound (when applicable), taste (if relevant) and look. Children need the opportunity to express fears and needs freely without being kept secretive; also it’s wiser not to hide temporary pain that might occur from treatment plans.

Stay calm during all conversations. Children tend to pick up on emotions of their parent, and can become easily sensitive to any negativity that is expressed. Remember this is also a difficult time for you, yet do your best to remain positive.

Although finding the appropriate words may be challenging, it is crucial that you address all topics related to your child’s visit or procedure. Children need a safe space for expression; otherwise they will find other means of venting their feelings, including teasing, acting aggressively or even self-blaming themselves; some will withdraw or become overly attached – counselors, social workers or psychologists are always there to provide assistance when finding an approach that best works.

Be Patient With Your Child

Hospital stays can be stressful experiences for all members of the family. Spending time to understand how your child is feeling and respond appropriately will help everyone stay calm and content during this trying time.

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Be mindful that your child will react differently than other children their age when responding to his/her diagnosis and hospital stay. Feelings such as fear, anxiety, worry, shock and relief are completely normal reactions; if he/she becomes overstimulated in the hospital due to bright lights, beeping machines or new medications, inquire with the hospital whether there are strategies available to aid sensory processing.

As part of your hospital preparation plan for your child, discuss it regularly with them. This is particularly beneficial when speaking to infants and toddlers, who may not fully comprehend what will be happening to them. Discussing hospital procedures will allow them to learn what’s ahead, while reminding them you are there with them throughout. You may even want to check your local library for age-appropriate books about going into hospital care that you can read together.

Toddlers and preschoolers should be prepared for hospital stays by discussing it a few days in advance, which allows them to learn what will occur without fearing punishment and give them an opportunity to ask any necessary questions.

If your child will require long-term hospital care, be proactive by asking their nurse when and if you can be there with them for their rounding sessions. Doing this will allow your child to see familiar faces throughout their hospital stay while giving them assurance that it won’t all be just foreign strangers in the hallways.

Before your hospital stay, it is also a good idea to discuss it with their teacher, friends and family members. This can help them understand that it is medically necessary and they should refrain from calling or visiting during school hours. Furthermore, your child’s teachers may even arrange homebound instruction should they not be able to come into hospital themselves.