Life in the Hospital Lane Pt.1

Mon Feb. 20th 2023


A hospital stay can feel daunting, at any age. There are many new faces, unfamiliar sounds and different smells. The hospital environment can feel overwhelming and strange. There may be hours of waiting - and, there really is no place like home! Whether an admission is planned or unexpected, there are things you can do to prepare, and lots of ways you can talk through some of the worries that may be making your child or teen feel apprehensive about going to hospital.

Talking it through

It's important that you sit down with your child to talk about exactly where they are going, what will be happening (operation or short check-up), expectations around duration of stay, and basic details around procedures and timeframes. The primary worry for young children usually centres around separation from their parents or main carers, so it’s really important to give them reassurance that you will be with them during their hospital stay.

Only you know your child well enough to decide what you will say, which parts you may leave out, and how to talk to them at the right level for their understanding. Balancing all of the information and details can be a challenge, as for young children, some things are beyond what they’ve experienced before. However, it is important to prepare them in some way, rather than spring it on them the day of the visit. This would be most unsettling. Children like to know what lies ahead.

As one parent has said “As Sam has moderate autism, it’s a juggling act to get this one right as too much warning can mean he is fixated and anxious, too little and he gets angry as he feels it’s sprung on him. I think it also depends on their age and awareness. Now he is 13 he is able to put his feelings into words and we can talk about things much better than when he was 6. I tend to prepare him just a few hours before, so he doesn’t mull over it overnight and have a bad sleep.”

It can be difficult to know how far ahead to tell a child about an upcoming hospital stay, or, sometimes it is unplanned and it’s a surprise to both you and your child! Anywhere between a week ahead and a day before is plenty of time. It can be helpful to count the number of days (or sleeps) if they are keen to know, and even use a calendar or picture to ‘cross off’ the days.

Leading up to a stay in hospital, you can encourage your child to ‘play hospital’ so you can talk about the operation or procedure in a light hearted way, and it gives your child an opportunity to ask questions that may crop up as they think it all through. Hospital play can help your child understand bigger words, and what may happen during their visit. Then they will feel more prepared and ‘hospital things’ will become familiar. You can play by examining their favourite toys, sticking on plasters, taking temperatures or listening to heartbeats.