How to prepare a child or adolescent for treatment in hospital

Instructions for parents

Knowledge has a calming effect

Children who have been informed about their visit to hospital and the examinations and procedures they are likely to face experience less fear, anxiety and stress. This promotes the child’s recovery and helps maintain trust in their parents and the nursing staff. It is natural that the procedures performed on the child and the visit to the hospital cause stress for the entire family. When parents are informed of the visit to the hospital, they may feel helpless, worried and even scared. Children are very sensitive to the feelings of their parents, even if parents try to hide them. Therefore, it is important that the upcoming event is handled together. If parents take a positive approach to the hospital visit, adjustment is easier for the child.
How the child is prepared for treatment in hospital depends on his or her age and development level. Each child is different, and it is the parents who know their child best and what kind of view he or she is likely to have of the upcoming hospital visit.
Here are some suggestions on how to ease your child’s anxiety and fears before coming to hospital:
  • Tell your child why they have to go to the hospital and what is going to happen there. Use familiar words that the child can understand. Try to give as concrete and simple an explanation as possible: what will be performed, how, why and what it will feel like.
  • Explain how long the hospital visit is likely to be and how you or someone else from the family can stay with him or her.
  • Give a positive image of the hospital. Explain that the nurses and doctors are there to help and care for him or her and no one will deliberately hurt the child.
  • Make sure that your child does not think that the visit to hospital is a punishment for something.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions and answer them honestly. In this way, you
    maintain the confidence of your child. Allow room for your child’s feelings and considerations. If you cannot answer a question your child asks you, promise that you will clarify the matter together when you come to the hospital. Do not promise anything that you cannot be sure of.
  • Kirjan lukeminen netti.jpgIf pain or unpleasant procedures are to be expected, explain this honestly. It is good to be prepared, even for unpleasant things. Do not promise your child there will be no pain but explain that pain can be alleviated in a number of ways.
  • Children’s books on hospitals introduce the hospital environment to the child and make it less scary. It’s a good idea to read these books together.
  • Pack a few important things together with your child to bring along to hospital; a doll, a teddy bear or some other familiar toy that makes them feel secure.

To be noted with regard to different age groups: (ages are for reference)

Babies (0 ~ 8 months)
Close interaction with parents is important for the baby’s development. The baby needs his or her parents to be close by in hospital. However, he or she is also able to accept care and comfort from other people. When the parents are not there, nurses can help the baby. After a period of separation, a baby can express anxiety by acting out or rejecting the parents. In such cases, he or she needs lots of comfort and care.
Toddlers (8 months ~ 2 years)
Even small babies sense the feelings of their parents. By talking to your baby about the visit to hospital, you can prepare for the upcoming event together. For a child of this age, separation from parents is often difficult. They are shy of new people and places. You should explain to the nurses how your child usually behaves and how he or she can be comforted. It’s a good idea to use a doll, for example, and play visiting and staying in hospital, even with a child who is under 2.
Small children ( 3 ~ 6 years)
Small children should be told about the hospital visit a few days before the event. The child may have a difficult time accepting the visit to hospital. Small children have a vivid imagination, and they may also have scary images of hospitals. A few days before the event, explain why you need to go to the hospital. Using play, explain in simple terms what will happen. Good aids in this are dolls, toy doctor’s equipment and children’s books on hospitals. Let your child express his or her feelings and thoughts and discuss them with him or her. Repeating things to the child is useful.
School age children (7 ~ 11 years)
A school-age child will already understand more about the reasons for a hospital visit. He or she may be worried about losing his or her skills and becoming different to other children the same age (e.g. a cast, changes in appearance). School-age children need more time to process the matter. A couple of weeks beforehand, explain why they are going to hospital and what is going to happen. Allow time for conversation, questions, play and feelings.
A 12-year-old is old enough to understand quite a lot about his or her own body and its functions. An adolescent should have the opportunity to influence the decisions regarding his or her treatment and be given the information regarding hospital treatment as soon as the decision is made. Many adolescents want to be independent but in connection with an illness, they may need plenty of support. Talk to your child and ask what kind of help and support he or she would like to have during the hospital visit. Respect your child’s privacy and encourage him or her to talk privately with the nursing staff and physicians on matters that are unclear. Questions can be written down to help you remember them.

Remember to explain to you child:

  • Why they need to go to hospital
  • What will happen in hospital
  • How long the visit to hospital is likely to take
  • Whether you or some other adult family member can stay in the hospital with him or herSairaalaleikki netti.jpg
Familiar things are not nearly as scary as unknown and unexpected things.

After a visit to hospital:

Even after a short stay in hospital, you may notice changes in your child’s behaviour. He or she may be in bad mood, miss your company more and be more dependent of you.
Recalling the hospital visit by talking about it and playing it through will help your child. In many cases, children will play “doctor” and thus deal with the matters they have experienced.