Talking about hospital

Everyone gets nervous before they go somewhere new, and coming to hospital is no different. Children and young people may be worried about meeting new people, having a test or operation or feeling uncomfortable.

We recommend talking to your child about coming to GOSH beforehand – you know your child best so you can tailor what you say to their level of maturity and understanding, but here are a few tips:

Babies

The main thing that could concern your baby is being separated from you. We encourage one parent to stay with their child in hospital, either at the bedside or nearby. We also want you to carry on looking after them as you would at home – washing, nappy changing and feeding – as much as you can. We believe that keeping things as normal as possible helps your child get better more quickly.

Toddlers

As a rough guide, we would suggest telling younger children about a hospital appointment a day in advance and to start preparing children for a hospital admission (involving at least a one night stay) up to a week ahead, keeping the explanation you give the same each time. It may be helpful to count the number of days (or sleeps) if they are keen to know when the hospital visit will happen – possibly using a calendar or visual countdown picture.

The main worry for young children will be separation from their parents and main carers. It is important to reassure them that you will be with them during their hospital visit. Reassure your child about what to expect at GOSH. You can visit our website for a ‘virtual tour’ and information about each ward, which may be helpful.

Read more suggestions for preparing your toddler.

Children

Sometimes we might feel scared about coming into hospital, and primary school-age children are no different – it disrupts their usual routine, and they may be surrounded by people they don’t know. Some children may find the experience of going into hospital overwhelming. Time passes at different rates when you are a child so it can be difficult to know when to tell them they are going to hospital. Older children will want more time to get ready so tell them a week or so beforehand.

Reassure your child about what to expect at GOSH. View our virtual tour and information about each ward

Read more suggestions for preparing your primary-school-age child here: Helping your child cope with hospital (582.42 KB)

Teenagers

Teenagers may find it hard to express their worries or feelings about a hospital appointment or admission. This may be because they have had a previous hospital experience that was difficult or stressful. It may be because they have little or no previous experiences of hospital and are unsure of what to expect. 

They may also have very limited experience of speaking to other people about their body, how it feels to be unwell or complex thoughts and feelings around hospital care and treatment. They will need your help – and the help of hospital staff – to manage their thoughts, feelings and conversations around these things.

The most important thing parents and carers can do when preparing for a hospital appointment or admission is to keep communication open with your teenager. Keep them informed of the dates and times of appointments and any plans for hospital stays or treatment.

Read more suggestions for preparing your teenager.

If your child has additional needs

How your child with additional needs will cope with coming to hospital depends a great deal on previous experience. It will be important to have you staying with them and acting as a go between with staff if needed. Make time to explain what is likely to happen during the hospital stay – have a look at our selection of Easy Read information sheets and use them as a basis. Find out more information in our section: if your child has additional needs.