Helping your child cope

We all fear the unknown so coming to hospital can be scary for anyone, no matter how old or young they are.

As with most unknown places and experiences, preparation is important, so that you know what to expect. Preparing a child for a visit to hospital is no different.

We realise that parents would like some guidance on how to prepare their child for hospital, so we have put together some suggestions for you.

All of these ideas have come from our play specialists, who between them have years of experience of preparing children for hospital, tests, operations and procedures.

The key to preparing your child for hospital is to tailor your explanations and activities to your child's age and level of understanding. You know your child best, so you will be able to gauge what he or she will be able to understand and when.

As a rough guide, we've also included some specific hints for preparing children of different ages in the next section. General points to remember include:

  • Talk to your child about coming to hospital using simple, easy to understand language. You may have to repeat the information several times until your child understands what is likely to happen.

  • Be honest with your child as well. If you do not know what is going to happen or whether something will hurt, admit that you do not know and try to find out from ward staff.
    A visit to the ward beforehand can also help. It will let your child get to know the ward and meet some of the staff who will be involved in his or her care, like the nurses and play specialist. To arrange a visit to the ward, please call the number on your admission letter and ask to speak to the play specialist.

  • Some families find that it helps if their child helps pack their own bag for hospital. This can also prompt questions that may not have cropped up before. Taking a special toy or favourite video can help too.

  • While you are in hospital, keep to as normal routine as possible. We know this can be hard at times but keeping to regular bedtimes and so on can add a touch of normality to a hospital stay.

  • Try to find out as much information as you need beforehand, so you are prepared to answer any questions. Distraction therapy is often used at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

  • Physical contact is always a comfort to a worried child. If you are staying with your child during a procedure, hold hands or give them a hug before and after.

  • Encourage your child to ask questions as well as asking them yourself. With older children, making a list of questions before an appointment or admission can help address any fears or worries.

Most importantly, let your child know it is OK to feel scared. It's a perfectly normal feeling and nothing to worry about. It's alright to let you know if they're worried or in pain.

Crying or yelling is allowed; 'being brave' is not always useful.

Encourage your child to talk about how he or she is feeling. Some children clam up when they are worried or anxious, so try using a toy as a 'substitute' so you ask how Teddy is feeling about going to hospital rather than your child directly.