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How to Help Your Child

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

  • Understand what is going to happen.
  • Feel a sense of control over their experience.
  • Be involved in their own care.
  • Feel empowered to use coping strategies.
  • Be less fearful.

Be open, honest, clear, and gentle when talking with your child about what is going to happen in the hospital or doctor’s office. Use simple words and explain what you feel your child can understand. Encourage your child to ask questions and answer them as honestly as you can.

You don’t have to face these questions alone. On the day of your visit, feel free to ask for a child life specialist to answer any of your child’s questions and to help support them through their experience. If you have any questions ahead of time, please contact us.

Tips and Suggestions for medical tests, procedures, or hospitalization

Here are a few tips and suggestions for helping your child through their medical experience: 


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When to Talk to Your Child

You know your child best and how much time they may need to think about the visit and 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 to Tell Your Child

Helping children and teens understand what to expect of an upcoming medical experience can help reduce uncertainty, misunderstandings, and worry. It can also empower them to feel more successful throughout their medical experience. Start by gathering the information you need to best explain their upcoming test or procedure. Talk to your medical team and read through our preparation stories to help you feel more comfortable talking with your child. 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 during your conversation: 

  • Who will be involved.
    • Doctors, nurses, child life specialists, you, etc.  
  • 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 your child asks if something is going to hurt, explain what they will feel using gentle words:
    •  Example:
      • Your nurse will gently slide a tiny needle under your skin. You may feel a pinch, but that feeling will not last forever.
  • Where the procedure will take place and where you will be during the test/procedure.
    • In a treatment room, operating room, emergency department, etc.
  • WHEN you think your child will come home or how long the procedure/test will take.
  • Why the test, procedure, or hospitalization is needed.
    • Examples:  
      • “To help understand how your __ is working.”  
      • “To help make your __ feel better.” 

If your child asks questions that you do not know the answer to, encourage them to write them down and ask their medical team.

How to Help Your Child Cope

After you have given your child the facts about a test or procedure, talk with them about what coping strategies they can use to stay as comfortable as possible. Most importantly, ask them what they think will help them feel comfortable. Consider the following questions:

  • Would they like a support person with them to hold their hand?
  • Would they like to sit up or lay down (if possible)?
  • Would they like to be told the steps of the procedure as they are happening?
  • Would they like to be able to see the procedure or would they rather look away?
  • Would they like a countdown before feeling any discomfort?

You are the expert on your child. We value your input and consider you a part of the team. Talk with your child’s medical team about the plan you have come up with.

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

  • 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, especially those you have come up with together.
  • Holding Your Child During a Procedure

You can also ask for a child life specialist to help support your child during a test or procedure. A member of the child life team will do their best to be present.

Common Coping Strategies by Age


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


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


  • Music or singing
  • Bubbles
  • Counting
  • Alternative focus using videos, games, or books


  • Conversation
  • Stress ball
  • Deep breathing
  • Music
  • Alternative focus using videos or games


  • Conversation
  • Deep breathing
  • Music
  • Guided imagery
  • Alternative focus using videos or games

What to Pack for Your Child

Bringing a few of your child’s favorite items from home can bring them comfort. Allowing your child to choose some items to pack may give them a sense of control. Some things to bring with you include:

  • Stuffed animal
  • Blanket
  • Comfortable clothing, pajamas, or slippers
  • Toys, games, or books
  • Tablet or cellphone (plus chargers!)
  • Toiletries

We suggest that you mark all personal items with your child’s name to help us keep track of your things. Additionally, we ask that you please keep latex balloons and flowers at home to avoid any potential safety or health hazards.

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:

  • Viewing photos of the areas in the hospital your child will see.
  • Participating in a medical play session based on your child’s age.
  • Viewing an age-appropriate movie about having an operation.
  • Receiving a tour of the surgery center and inpatient unit if needed.
  • Meeting some of the staff that may be taking care of your child on the day of surgery.

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 for what their child would experience.

Find more information and resources here.

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

The following are books the Child Life Program team recommends for patients and families.

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


  • Bodies are Cool – Tyler Fedar 
  • Sara's Steps – Niki Averton and Nicole Perry
  • Understanding Burns – Jumo Health 


  • 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
  • Zip Line – David Humphreys 


  • 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
    • Advice From a Blob – Lennie/Harper Design
    • 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 Adults and Teens – Alan Wolfelt
    • 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
    • Zara's Big Messy Goodbye – Rebekah Boruki
  • 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
  • For Kids Experiencing the Death of a Loved One From Suicide
    • Someone I Loved Died by Suicide – Doreen Cammarata

Medical Devices

  • Central Line
    • My Central Line – Angus Olsen
  • G-Tube
    • The Abilities in Me: Tube Feeding
    • My Belly has a Button – Mikele Lee
    • 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
    • Gerry the Giraffe and His Super Aesome but Sometimes Icky Tracheostomy – Rebekah Foguth 
    • Mattie Breathes – Tracie Loux
    • Tracey's Tracheostomy – Wendy Hall 


  • 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