When should I start preparing my child for hospital?
Exactly when depends on your child’s age, what they are coming to hospital for and how you think they will deal with the information given to them. No child is the same and those closest know them best – use these timings as guides but trust your instincts!
- Toddlers (1-2 year olds): toddlers struggle to understand the concept of time so telling them just a day or two before they come to hospital is normally enough.
- Pre-schoolers (3-5 year olds): young children might have a little understanding about what hospital is and who they might meet there. Start preparing about a week before - this gives lots of opportunity to “play hospitals” and to talk about who they might meet there and what will happen.
- Older children: as children get older they have a better sense of time and are able to understand more complicated information. It is important to give this age group plenty of time to think things through and to ask questions. Exactly how long varies, but we recommend at least a week before.
What should I tell my child about visiting hospital?
It can be really difficult to know what to say to your child about hospitals or illness. You might worry about making your child more nervous or you might be unsure yourself about what will happen. However, there is lots of evidence to show that most children cope better in hospital if they have been prepared – being able to understand what will happen and being given a chance to ask questions helps reduce uncertainty and gives children a sense of control.
Start by preparing yourself:
Before you talk to your child, try to find out as much as you can about what will happen during their time in hospital. Children learn by asking lots of questions so it can help if you are prepared too! The Little Journey app has lots of information articles, and hospitals can usually provide leaflets for patients. You might find information online too but try to make sure this is from reliable sources. If you have any questions always ask! You might like to make a list of questions to ask the healthcare team before you get to hospital. There is so much to remember when you first arrive so bringing a list of questions with you can really help.
When talking to your child:
- Be open and honest
- Follow their lead - find out what they already understand and what they want to know
- Use simple language
- Answer questions truthfully – children are often worried about “will it hurt?” or “what will it feel like?”. It can be tempting to avoid the trickier questions but try to be honest and clear
- Talk about who will be there and what will happen. Children learn by piecing together bits of information to create a bigger picture, a bit like a jigsaw.
- Drawing pictures or “playing hospitals” can be a good way to uncover your child’s worries or concerns as well as to role play what will happen on the day
- Help your child plan ways to stay calm in hospital – maybe reading a favourite book, taking a special teddy or toy, or watching something on a tablet
- Pack a bag to take to hospital together
- Use the Little Journey app together – this provides interactive and engaging ways to help prepare your child including virtual tours and animated relaxation guides.