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Coping With the Hospital for Kids

Coping With the Hospital for Kids

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Updated on May 29, 2014

Being in the hospital can be scary—especially if you're a kid! If you have a child who’s hospitalized for any reason—from common illnesses to life-threatening diseases—your actions have a huge impact on the experience of everyone involved. Learn what and what not to do while guiding your kid through this difficult time. Here are the best ways to help your child cope:

Tour the hospital beforehand.

Many child life teams offer tours to help acclimate kids to the hospital, either for an extended stay or for procedures and surgeries. If your child knows exactly what to expect before she's there, you've eliminated her fear of the unknown.

Choose your words carefully.

The right language can go a long way in minimizing a patient’s fears and anxieties. The child life team at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City states, “Anxiety is heightened by the use of words like yucky, hurt, burn, sting. Try saying things like, ‘This medicine may have a taste that is different for you.’ For injections or blood draws, reassure your child, ‘You will feel the doctor pressing on your arm as the medicine goes in/blood comes out, and when they are finished, you will feel better.’”

Don't make promises you can't keep.

Using lies to create a smooth experience is always a bad idea. For example, never tell your child this is the very last shot or IV unless you’re 100 percent certain. If you tell her things are going to happen and they don’t, you will lose her trust. Instead say, “They are going to try and place this IV in the best vein they can find. They will try to get it on the first try and if they can't, we will take a short break before they try again.”

Give choices when you can.

Don't ask your child if she wants to take her medicine. Of course she doesn’t! Instead, give her a choice of taking the medicine with a spoon, syringe or cup. You can involve your child in her treatment this way throughout her stay and make her an informed participant.

Ask questions and take notes.

As events unfold you may realize that you have many unanswered questions. Always ask! Talbot urges, “Have a paper and pen with you at all times. You're likely to not be at your best, and forgetting is easy. You're not asking questions because you're doubting or challenging them, you're trying to understand and make good decisions.”

Avoid scary situations.

There is a difference between what parents and kids perceive, so filter what your child sees as much as you can. This means that you should avoid wandering to the intensive care unit or the emergency department, for example. Also, be aware of what questions you ask medical staff while your child is in earshot.

Cooperate with medical staff.

Don’t be disagreeable or confrontational with medical personnel. This is not helpful to your child. You may have found overly general or anecdotal information about your child’s condition on your own, but that’s not enough to understand all of the issues. Each child is different, which means each course of treatment is different.

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