Coping with a hospital stay, operation or procedure

Hospitals can be daunting places for children and adults. We hope the following ideas will help.

Preparation is important

Have a look at our Before you come to GOSH pages for ideas and suggestions on how to talk to your child about their upcoming hospital stay – our Play team have lots of ideas for different ages of children built on years of experience working with children, young people and families

Talking to your child about treatment

There are many things that you can do to prepare your child for coming into hospital – have a look at our Talking about hospital page for ideas and suggestions. It's important that you sit down with your child and explain to them where they are going, that they will be having an operation or procedure, and basic details about what to expect.

  • Make sure they understand why they are having the operation or procedure – it will make them feel better in the long run.
  • Use words that your child will understand – have a look at our Easy Read information sheets for ideas.
  • Encourage your child to ‘play hospital’ so that they can talk about the operation or procedure and ask questions.
  • Talk to them about how long they will probably be in hospital and what will happen during the stay.

If you would like some advice about talking to your child about the operation or procedure, contact the Play team on 020 7829 8849.

During your stay

Most children will worry about being away from their main carers. GOSH encourages one parent to stay with their child throughout their hospital stay – either at the bedside or nearby.  If this could be difficult, tell us.

If your child is in intensive care, we will offer somewhere to stay to both parents – this cannot be at the bedside for safety reasons, but we give priority for accommodation nearest GOSH to parents of children and young people in intensive care.

During hospital stays all parents are encouraged to take regular breaks from the ward environment. Taking a break and taking time-out for yourself can help with the stress of caring for a sick child. Have a look at our information sheet for more ideas about how to look after yourself.

While it can be tempting to be less strict about what happens and when, your child will probably prefer to stick to their usual routine during a hospital stay. The familiarity of usual mealtime and bedtime routines can be a source of comfort for children when they are away from home.

When you get home

Children often process and react to their illness and hospital treatment when you return home after a hospital stay. You may find they are more clingy, tearful or anxious than normal. Some children seem to regress or go back a few steps in their development. If you are concerned about your child’s behaviour, ask your family doctor (GP) for advice.