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Children in hospital

Hospitals can be strange, frightening places for children. Being ill or in pain is frightening too. There’s no parent who isn’t anxious to do all they can to help their child.

  • Prepare your child as best you can. You could play ‘doctors and nurses’ or ‘operations’ with teddies and dolls and read story books about being in hospital.
  • It’s worth doing this even if you don’t know your child is going into hospital. Quite a large number of under fives do have to go into hospital at some stage, and many go in as emergencies.
  • Be with your child in hospital as much as possible. It’s extremely important for you to be with your child in hospital as much as possible and, with young children especially, to sleep there. Do all you can to arrange this. 
  • All hospital children’s departments now have some provision for parents to stay overnight with their children. Talk to hospital staff beforehand and be clear about arrangements, what will happen, and so on. You may then be able to explain at least a part of it to your child.

  • Explain as much as possible to your child. Even quite young children need to know about what is happening to them, so explaining as much as possible is important. What children imagine is often worse than reality. Be truthful, too. Don’t, for example, say something won’t hurt when it will. Some hospitals will arrange visits for children and their families before the child is admitted for a planned treatment or operation.
  • Talk with hospital staff about anything that will be important for your child. You may need to explain cultural differences. Staff should know, for example, if hospital food is going to seem very strange to your child. Try to discuss ways of getting over problems like this. Also tell staff about any special words your child uses (such as needing to go to the lavatory), any special ways of comforting, and so on.
  • Make sure something like a favourite teddy bear or comforter goes into hospital with your child.
  • Be prepared for your child to be upset by the experience, and maybe to show it in one way or another for some time afterwards. Reassure as much as you can.
  • You can get a lot of helpful information and advice on how best to cope when your child is in hospital from Action for Sick Children.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.