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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: 

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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.
    Examples:  
    • “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.
    Examples:
    • “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

Infant

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

Toddler

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

Preschool

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

School-age

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

Adolescents

  • 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.

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