How to Handle a Hospitalized Child


Going into the hospital isn’t something that hap­pens just to other people’s children—half of all children are admitted to a hospital before they reach the age of seven. Some­times the admissions are planned. At other times they are the result of an accident. Whatever the circumstances, hospitalization can be a traumatic emotional experience for a young child. Look at it from your child’s point of view. Hospitals are large, noisy places, where people wear green and white clothes. Some of them even wear masks. The food is different from home, not what mom usually makes. Hospitals may already be associated with the death of a relative. Yet all this pales in comparison with what actually goes on inside the hospital: injections, pills, and possibly unpleasant examinations—no wonder children are often appre­hensive. And this apprehension can affect their rate of recovery.

Most pediatricians accept that a child’s return to good health depends very much on the way he’s managed in the hos­pital—and this management must include due attention to the child’s psychological welfare as well as to his physical welfare. There are very good reasons for this: if a child is unhappy in the hospital, he may not eat properly and will feel stressed. When this happens, the child will not recover as quickly as he would if he felt comfortable and at ease.

The foundations for coping with hospitalization should be laid long before your child has a health problem. You are happy to discuss fire stations, the library, and the supermarket with your child—so include hospitals. Lots of children’s books about being in the hospital are available, which you can read to your child at home in a relaxed setting. You can point out your local hospital when passing by; there may even be an opportunity to take your child with you when you visit a hospitalized friend.

If your child has a planned hospital admission, talk to him about it several days in advance. This will give him plenty of time to ask questions—to which you should give direct answers, according to your child’s level of understanding. Emphasize how kind the doctors and nurses will be, and reassure your child that he will be there for only a few days. Many children’s hospitals plan a preadmission visit to show children the routine and answer their questions.

Be calm on admission day. Let your child take a couple of his favorite toys with him. Ask ward staff to introduce your child to some of the other patients. Don’t be afraid to tell the nurses about your child’s individual habits, for instance, that he always has warm milk in the morning or that he watches a par­ticular television program each day. The more the hospital rou­tine resembles your child’s home routine, the happier he’ll be.

Actually being with your child while he is in the hospital is the most effective way to ease his psychological stress. Children should be allowed unrestricted visiting when in the hospital, and mothers should be allowed to stay with their hospitalized child. These elementary facts of child psychology have not been uni­versally implemented. The problem is that not every child is admitted to an all-children hospital. A high percentage is admit­ted either to a children’s ward within a large general hospital, or to an adult ward with designated children’s beds, where staff have not been specially trained to deal with young patients. Such institutions are unlikely to have residential facilities for parents, and visiting hours for children are likely to be restricted.

If you want to be with your child throughout his stay in the hospital, even though he’s in a ward with restricted visiting, do the following:

  • Remember you have a right to be there. Most doctors realize that it’s in your child’s best interest for you to be with him when he’s in the hospital. You are not eccentric when you exercise this right.
  • Don’t be put off by the excuse, “There’s no room.” A chair by your child’s bed will not take up much space, nor will it inconvenience any of the other patients.
  • Challenge staff who say that they can’t work while you’re in the ‘ room watching them. There’s no justification for this sort of claim.
  • Speak to the head nurse—or hospital administrator, if necessary— if you are consistently told you can’t stay. Ward routines can be flexible, if the goodwill is there. So stick to your guns.
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About the Author: Alan Kennon lives a very happy life with two kids and a lovely wife. He likes to share his life time experiences with others about how they can improve their lifestyle and personality.

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