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How to Help Your Child

Being in the hospital and having medical tests or procedures can be stressful for children and families. Preparing children and teens for these experiences and making a coping plan can help them:

  • Have a better understanding of and a sense of control over their experience.
  • Feel involved in their own care.
  • Feel empowered to use coping strategies during future tests/procedures or stressful experiences.

On the day of your visit, feel free to ask for a child life specialist to help support your child through their experience. If you have any questions ahead of time, please contact us.

Tips and Suggestions

Below you will find tips and suggestions for helping your child through their medical experience: 

Expand all

When Should I Talk to My Child About a Test, Procedure, or Hospitalization?

You know your child best and how much time they may need to think about the visit or ask questions. Below are some general guidelines by age:  

  • Toddlers – The day of the procedure 
  • Pre-school/Young School Age – A day or two in advance 
  • School-age and Up – Several days to weeks ahead of time 

What Should I Tell My Child?

Helping children and teens understand what to expect and what is expected of them in an upcoming medical experience can help reduce uncertainty, misunderstandings and anxiety. It can also empower them to feel more successful through a medical experience. First, get the information you need in order to best explain their upcoming test/procedure. Talk to your medical team to get any questions answered and to help you feel more comfortable. Children can sense how their caregivers are feeling; the more comfortable you are, the more relaxed they will be.   

Here are some important points to touch on: 

  • Why the test, procedure, or hospitalization is needed.
    • “To help understand how your __ is working.”  
    • “To help make your __ feel better.” 
  • What your child will see, hear, and feel 
    • Include what parts of the body will be involved, using words familiar to your child.
    • While it may be tempting to avoid parts of the test or procedure that may cause stress, it is important to be honest. If something is going to hurt, say so. Explain that although it will hurt for some time, the doctors and nurses are there to help. This is a good time to discuss coping strategies.
  • Where the procedure will take place and where you will be during test/procedure.
    • In a treatment room, operating room, emergency department, etc.
  • Who will be involved 
    • Doctors, nurse, child life specialist, you, etc.  

Preparing for the Test or Procedure

  • Talk about what coping strategies you will use and practice them. 
    • Practice staying “still like a statue.” 
    • Practice relaxing – deep breathing, imagining your favorite place or activity, etc. 
  • Bring any comfort items (stuffed animal, blanket, etc.). 
  • Make a list of any questions you or your child have to ask the team when you arrive.

How Can I Help During a Procedure?

As long as you are comfortable being present during the test or procedure, you can provide support for your child. Here are some tips: 

  • Communicate with staff what you know works best for your child and what coping strategies you have planned (sitting with you, being told each step, watching the test or procedure or looking away, etc.). 
  • Provide verbal support and praise. Be specific.
    • “You are doing a great job holding still!”
    • “Good job taking those deep breaths.”
  • Engage your child in coping strategies
    • Deep breathing, squeezing a stress ball, distraction, etc.
  • Holding Your Child During a Procedure

Coping Strategies by Age


  • Holding the baby
  • Shushing
  • Soft voice
  • Pacifier
  • Music or singing
  • Rattles


  • Holding the toddler
  • Music or singing
  • Bubbles
  • Light up toys
  • Comfort items (blanket, stuffed animal, etc.)


  • Music or singing
  • Bubbles
  • Counting
  • Alternative focus with book or video


  • Conversation
  • Stress ball
  • Deep breathing
  • Music
  • Alternative focus with video or games


  • Conversation
  • Deep breathing
  • Music
  • Guided imagery

Pre-Surgical Tour

Any new or unfamiliar experience in a child’s life, such as hospitalization or illness, can seem very scary for them and their family. Children need to be prepared in an honest way in order to cope with their hospital experience. There is a program available to help prepare you and your child for the hospital experience. It may include some or all of the following:

  • View photos of the areas in the hospital your child will see.
  • Participate in medical play session based on your child’s age.
  • View an age-appropriate movie about having an operation.
  • Receive a tour of the surgery center and inpatient unit if needed.
  • Meet some of the staff that may be taking care of your child on the day of surgery.
  • Receive information packet to help prepare you for your hospital stay.

This program has helped children become less fearful and more cooperative, because they know what to expect. Also, parents have felt that this program has helped them feel more at ease and prepared them for what their child would experience.

Find more information and resources here.

*Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, some or all of the pre-surgical tour may not be available.

Burn Program

Child life specialists work with pediatric burn survivors and their families providing support during burn treatments, enhancing coping during hospitalization, supporting through visual differences a burn injury may cause, and providing programming opportunities such as Beads of Courage and Summer Burn Camp.

Find more information and resources here.

Recommended Books

Amputations/Limb Differences

  • Little Tree – Joyce C. Mills
  • Wearing an Artificial Limb with Human Body Helpers – Harriet Brundle
  • What Happened to You? – James Catchpole


  • I Have Asthma, What Does That Mean? – Wendy Chen
  • The Lion Who Had Asthma – Jonathan London
  • Understanding Asthma – Doctors for Kids
  • Using an Inhaler with Human Body Helpers – Harriet Brundle

Autism and Neurodivergence

  • The Abilities in Me: ADHD – Gemma Keir
  • The Abilities in Me: Autism – Gemma Keir
  • Billy’s Sister: Life When Your Sibling has a Disability – Jessica Leving
  • My Friend Has Autism – Amanda Tourville

Blood Disorders

  • Understanding Blood Transfusions – Jumo Health
  • Hemophilia
    • Understanding Hemophilia – Jumo Health
  • Sickle Cell Disease
    • Hope and Destiny – Allan F. Platt
    • Hope and Destiny Jr. – Lewis L. Hsu
    • My Friend Jen: A Little Different – Jenica Leah
    • Understanding Sickle Cell Disease v.1 – Jumo Health
    • Understanding Sickle Cell Disease v.2 – Jumo Health
  • Thalassemia
    • Understanding Thalassemia – Jumo Health

Body Boundaries, Body Image, Body Safety

  • Amazing You: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts – Gail Saltz
  • The Bare Naked Book – Kathy Stinson
  • Bodies are Cool – Tyler Feder
  • Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut – Derrick Barnes
  • Don’t Hug Doug – Carrie Finison
  • Hair Love – Matthew A. Cherry
  • Happy in Our Skin – Fran Manuschkin
  • Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect – Jayneen Sanders
  • Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept! – Jayneen Sanders
  • There’s So Much More to Wear Than Hair – Sarah Kravchuk
  • What are Your Words?: A Book About Pronouns – Katherine Locke
  • What’s Silly Hair Day with No Hair? – Noren Paulson
  • Your Whole Body: From Your Head to Your Toes, and Everything in Between! – Lizzie Deyoung Charbonneau


  • Because Someone I Love Has Cancer – American Cancer Society
  • Big Tree is Sick – Nathalie Slosse
  • Cancer Party – Sara Olsher
  • Chemo, Craziness and Comfort – Ruth I. Hoffman
  • Chemotherapy 101 for Kids – Sara Olsher
  • How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear? – Vanessa Bayer
  • Little Tree – Joyce C. Mills
  • Living Well with My Serious Illness – Marge Eaton Heegaard
  • My Cancer – Angus Olsen
  • My Central Line – Angus Olsen
  • My Port – Angus Olsen
  • My Scans – Angus Olsen
  • My Perfect Shelter – Clare Helen Welsh
  • There’s So Much More to Wear Than Hair – Sarah Kravchuk
  • Understanding Blood Transfusions – Jumo Health
  • Understanding Chemotherapy – Jumo Health
  • Understanding Childhood Cancer – Jumo Health
  • Understanding Leukemia – Jumo Health
  • Understanding Osteosarcoma – Jumo Health
  • Understanding Stem Cell Transplants – Jumo Health
  • What is a Bone Marrow Transplant? – Adrienne O’Connor
  • What Happens When a Kid Has Cancer – Sara Olsher
  • What Happens When My Siblings Has Cancer – Sara Olsher
  • What’s Silly Hair Day with No Hair? – Noren Paulson
  • When a Kid Like Me Fights Cancer – Catharine Stier
  • When Someone Has a Very Serious Illness – Marge Eaton Heegaard
  • Will Jax Be Home for Thanksgiving – Samarrah Fine Clayman

Cardiac Conditions

  • The Abilities in Me: Congenital Heart Defect – Gemma Keir


  • The Abilities in Me: Type 1 Diabetes – Gemma Keir
  • Shia Learns About Diabetes – Shaina Hatchell
  • Understanding Type 1 Diabetes – Jumo Health
  • Using Insulin with the Human Body Helpers – Harriet Brundle

Disabilities, Differences, and Other Diagnoses

  • The Abilities in Me: 22Q Deletion – Gemma Keir
  • The Abilities in Me: Down Syndrome – Gemma Keir
  • The Abilities in Me: Hydrocephalus – Gemma Keir
  • The Abilities in Me: Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis – Gemma Keir
  • The Abilities in Me: Spina Bifida – Gemma Keir
  • The Abilities in Me: Speech Delay – Gemma Keir
  • Evely’s Sister – Luna Diaz
  • Roxy the Racoon: A Story to Help Children Learn about Disability and Inclusion – Alice Reeves
  • We’ll Paint the Octopus Red – Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen
  • You Are Enough: A Book About Inclusion – Margaret O’Hair
  • Zara Shares Her Stipes – Alexion Pharmaceuticals

Doctor or Hospital Visit

  • The Berenstain Bears: Hospital Friends – Mike Berenstain
  • Daniel Visits the Doctor – Becky Friedman
  • Franklin Goes to the Hospital – Paulette Bourgeois
  • My First Hospital Visit – Wendy Hall
  • Digital Resource: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – Daniel Goes to the Hospital on YouTube

Epilepsy and Seizures

  • The Abilities in Me: Epilepsy – Gemma Keir
  • Lee: The Rabbit with Epilepsy – Deborah Moss
  • Understanding Epilepsy – Jumo Health

Feelings and Mindfulness

  • Feelings
    • No Matter What – Debi Gliori
    • Nothing Stays the Same: But That’s Okay – Sara Olsher
    • Ravi’s Roar – Tom Percival
    • Ruby Finds a Worry – Tom Percival
  • Mindfulness
    • I am Love: A Book of Compassion – Susan Verde
    • I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness – Susan Verde
    • I am a Peaceful Goldfish: Shoshana Chaim
    • Right Now, I am Fine – Daniela Owen
    • Sea Otter Cove – Lori Lite
  • Self Esteem
    • I Like Me! – Nancy Carlson
    • It’s Okay to Be Different – Todd Parr
    • Just Because I Am: A Children’s Book of Affirmations – Lauren Payne
  • Separation
    • The Invisible String – Patricia Karst
    • The Kissing Hand – Audrey Penn
    • You Weren’t with Me – Chandra Ghosh Ippen


  • Understanding Crohn’s Disease – Jumo Health
  • Understanding Ulcerative Colitis – Jumo Health

Grief and Loss

  • For Kids
    • Always Remember – Cece Meng
    • Ben’s Flying Flowers – Inger Maier
    • Death is Stupid – Anastasia Higginbotham
    • The Fall of Freddie the Leaf – Leo Buscaglio
    • Gentle Willow – Joyce C. Mills
    • The Gift of Gerbert’s Feathers – Meaghann Weaver
    • The Good Mourning – Seldon Peden
    • The Grief Bubble – Kerry Debay
    • Grieving for the Sibling You Lost – Erica Goldblatt Hyatt
    • Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens – Alan Wolfelt
    • Healing Your Grieving Heart Journal for Teens – Alan Wolfelt
    • I Have a Question About Death: Clear Answers for All Kids, Including Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder – Arlen Grad Gaines
    • I Miss You – Pat Thomas
    • Ida, Always – Carson Levison
    • The Invisible String – Patricia Karst
    • The Kissing Hand – Audrey Penn
    • A Last Goodbye – Elin Kelsey
    • Lifetimes – Bryan Mellonie
    • Maybe Tomorrow? – Charlotte Agell
    • The Memory Book – Joanna Rowlan
    • The Memory Box – Joanna Rowlan
    • My Brother – Dee Huxley
    • My Life by Me – Beth Barber
    • The Next Place – Warren Hanson
    • Someone I Love Died – Christine Harder Tangvald
    • Tear Soup – Pat Schwiebert
    • Welcome to the Grief Club – Janine Kwoh
    • What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies? – Trevor Romain
    • When Dinosaurs Die – Marc Brown
    • When Someone Dies: A Children’s Mindful How-To Guide on Grief and Loss – Andrea Dorn
    • When Someone Very Special Dies – Marge Eaton
    • Where Are You? – Laura Olivieri
    • Whistler’s Last Song – Adam Herro
    • Why Do I Feel Sad? – Tracy Lambert
    • You’ll Find Me – Amanda Rawson Hill
  • For Kids Experiencing Parental/Caregiver or Adult Family Member Loss
    • Missing Mommy – Rebecca Cobb
    • Mom’s Sweater – Jayde Perkin
    • One Wave at a Time – Holly Thompson
  • For Adults
    • The Journey Through Grief and Loss – Robert Zucker
    • A Time to Grieve – Carol Staudacher
    • Welcome to the Grief Club – Janine Kwoh
    • What Do We Tell the Children? – Joseph Primo

Medical Devices

  • Central Line
    • My Central Line – Angus Olsen
  • G-Tube
    • The Abilities in Me: Tube Feeding
    • My Tubey: A Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Boy
    • My Tubey: A Day in the Life of a Tube Fed Girl
  • Port
    • My Port – Angus Olsen
  • Tracheostomy
    • The Abilities in Me: Tracheostomy – Gemma Keir
    • Mattie Breathes – Tracie Loux


  • Billy’s Sister: Life When Your Sibling has a Disability – Jessica Leving
  • Evely’s Sister – Luna Diaz
  • How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear? – Vanessa Bayer
  • My Perfect Shelter – Clare Helen Welsh
  • No Matter What – Debi Gliori
  • Nothing Stays the Same: But That’s Okay – Sara Olsher
  • Sometimes – Rebecca Elliott
  • You Weren’t with Me – Chandra Ghosh Ippen
  • You’re All My Favorites – Sam McBratney

Serious Illness/Intensive Care Unit

  • All About the Intensive Care Unit: How to Prepare Kids for an ICU Visit – Alexandria Friesen and Morgan Livingstone
  • How Do You Care for a Very Sick Bear? – Vanessa Bayer
  • Living Well with my Serious Illness – Marge Eaton Heegaard
  • When Someone Has a Very Serious Illness – Marge Eaton Heegaard

Surgery, Tests, and Procedures

  • Goodbye Tonsils – Craig Hatkoff, Julianna Lee Hatkoff, Marilyn Mets
  • My Scans – Angus Olsen
  • The Spine Surgery Book for Kids – Charisse Montgomery, Richard Montgomery, Jason Smithery
  • Surgery on Sunday – Kat Harrison and Shane Crampton
  • Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the Hospital – Virginia Dooley


  • Alex and the Scary Things – Melissa Moses
  • Big Bear Was Not the Same – Joanna Rowland
  • A Terrible Thing Happened – Margaret M. Holmes