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Preparing Your Child

What to Tell Your Child

Families often ask how to tell a child about being in the hospital. There are many good books available. The amount of information and the way it is told depends on the child's age and intellectual maturity. As a general rule, be open, honest, clear and gentle; using simple words and explain only what you feel your child can understand. This will lessen their fear.

Encourage your child to ask questions and answer them honestly; if your child asks if they will hurt, be honest but you do not need to go into the degrees of anticipated pain. There are many ways to help reduce the pain and anxiety your child may have.

Bringing things from home such as favorite toys, blanket, clothes and pictures is a good start. Younger children may benefit from drawing pictures and reading books about being in the hospital where as adolescents may deny it for fear of disfigurement, separations from friends or death. Your physician may be able to help answer questions before coming into the hospital.

Our Child Life Staff can also help in explaining treatment and they can give you and your child a tour of our hospital.

When To Tell Your Child

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Newborn to Two Year Olds

These children do not understand sickness. They cannot see or touch it. They fear separation from their family and losing control over things around them. There is no need to tell them when they are going to the hospital as they do not understand time.

Two to Four Year Olds

These children tend to look at things from their own little world. They believe everything revolves around them. They link things to what has happened in their life. They take things literally. They like to use their imaginations so encourage these children to draw pictures or play hospital. Telling them a few days before they will be admitted will help.

Four to Seven Year Olds

They can only think about one thing at a time. At this age, the child feels very guilty for things that happen to them. They may think something they did caused the illness. Reinforce that they did not do anything to cause this. They may have a good imagination and using magical thoughts may help. You should tell this child a few days before going into the hospital. Encourage them to ask their questions and reassure them that they did not do anything wrong.

Seven to Eleven Years Old

These children can concentrate on more than one thing at a time but still based on their own experiences. They are able to tell time. They understand that they may need treatment to get better. They like jokes. Use humor to help alleviate anxiety. These children should be told about going to the hospital a week ahead of time so that they can imagine the experience and better cooperate.

Twelve Years and Older

These children can comprehend more complex things. They are able to think about things even if they personally have not experienced it. Because their friends are important to them, it may be best to tell them a few weeks ahead of time so that they may have time to talk to these friends and cope.

What to Pack for Your Child

Feel free to bring some of your child's favorite toys. Please mark personal items with your name. This will help us keep track of your things.

  • Toys, games or books
  • Favorite blanket or stuffed animal
  • PJs, slippers, glasses or hearing aids


  • Latex (rubber) balloons. Latex balloons are a potential safety hazard. You may bring or have families send Mylar balloons instead.
  • Non-medical electrical equipment such as TVs, radios or hair dryers.
  • Flowers. For health reasons some patient units do not allow flowers. Please check with your child's nurse first.