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Hospital Stay: Checking your child into the hospital — and leaving him there — is something no parent wants to ever do. But wishing it away doesn’t help, and little people have a way of getting sick, or breaking their arms or legs, or needing their appendix out, or any of a long list of other contingencies. Sometimes the hospital stay itself is more traumatizing than the actual injury.
Let’s face it: a hospital stay can be very scary for a child, especially a child who isn’t prepared. But it doesn’t have to be that way. How can you prepare your child for an imminent hospital stay, and give him the mental tools he needs to be able to handle the scary world of ever-present antiseptic, white robes, and white hospital sheets?
Here are four important ways:
- Make hospitals, doctors, and medical procedures the subject of open discussion and even pretend play at home. Talk about what will be happening, in a normal, cheerful, voice. Do some hospital role-play so your child knows what to expect. Sometimes he can be patient and you doctor; other times, switch it up and be patient while he doctors you. Children’s storybooks on hospital stays can be helpful too.
- Help your child choose things that he’d like with him: toys, puzzles, and a few special stuffed animals. It’s not much extra work for you to lug these personal items to the hospital with you, and it can make a big difference for your child.
- Stay with your child as long as possible, and when it’s time to leave, don’t run away—tell your child you’re leaving, kiss him goodbye, and let him know who you’re leaving him with and which nurse is responsible for him for the next several hours.
- Talk with the staff about your child. Let them know his likes, dislikes, preferences and fears. If strawberry ice-cream is what makes the world go round for him, make sure they know that. If he’d rather color than do anything else, or if the five o’clock cartoon is one he waits for every day, let them know that too.
A hospital stay doesn’t have to be scary and traumatizing—if your child is prepared and if you’re able to keep your act together, stay calm, and communicate well with your child and the hospital staff. Help him discover and enjoy the fun part of hospitalization — unlimited treats, maybe, or as many cartoons as he wants? and the pain will fade into the background.