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10 tips for preparing your child for hospitalization

By Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, CCRN, nurse in Children’s Hospital Boston’s Preoperative Clinic. See more of her writing at Healthy Offspring.

Visiting a hospital can be overwhelming for anyone, but for kids it can be downright scary. The range of fears will vary from child to child depending on their age, development, personality and prior hospital experience. As parents it’s our goal to help calm our children and prepare them for experiences that might be frightening, but when it comes to preparing your little one for a hospital stay that may seem easier said than done.

Fortunately the staff at Children’s Hospital Boston has seen it all and is here to help children (and their parents) know just what to expect if they’re coming to Children’s. Mary O’Malley, NP, MSN, and Certified Child Life Specialist Hayley Sorensen, MS, CCLS, have extensive experience working with children in the hospital’s Preoperative Clinic, and offer these tips for families who may be preparing a child for a hospital stay.

1. Be honest

According Sorensen, most children will be looking for answers to three W questions when they find out they’re going to a hospital for an extended visit. “The concern for children being hospitalized are usually, ‘Who is going to be with me, what will the doctors do and will it hurt?'” she says.

The single most important thing parents can do to help alleviate any fears is to have an open and honest dialogue with their children. Kids are observant and intuitive and they know when information is being kept from them, which can cause anxiety.

By discussing the upcoming hospitalization in age appropriate ways, you can quiet a lot of the fears your child may be worried about. “Children need to be prepared,” O’Malley says.  “Nothing in real-life is as scary as their imagination is and they need to be reassured of that.”

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