The Hospital Experience

Parents often ask for information about how to talk with their child about the hospital. Here are some suggestions to help you prepare your child for a health care experience.

  • Choose a quiet time to talk and use a calm and relaxed tone of voice. Tell your child that he or she will be going to the hospital for an operation, test or procedure, and let your child know that you feel this is the right thing to do. Children can usually sense how a parent feels about a hospitalization or a procedure.

  • Ask what your child knows or thinks about the hospital. Listen to your child's feelings, and help her talk about them. Start with what seems the most important in your child's mind. It’s helpful to talk about what the hospital is with your child. For example, you might say "The hospital is a place where people of all ages go when their bodies need some help to work. The doctors and nurses know a lot about how our bones and muscles and insides work. They try to help us get well, feel better and stay healthy."

  • Let your child know in advance if you know a test or procedure is about to happen, even if it is something uncomfortable like a needle. This will give your child a feeling of trust. Use honest and simple explanations that fit your child's age and level of understanding, and ask your child questions to make sure he or she understands what you have said.

  • Encourage your child to ask you and the doctors and nurses a lot of questions. If your child is uneasy about asking questions, you can ask for her.

  • Try to choose words that are neutral when describing procedures and tests to your child. For example, you might say, "The nurse will 'slide' the needle into your arm," rather than "The nurse will 'stick' or 'poke' a needle into your arm."

  • Tell your child how she might feel, before, during and after the operation, procedure or test. For example, you may want to explain she will not hear, see or feeling anything during the operation. The doctor will give a special sleep medicine called anesthesia before the operation. Try not to make promises you can't keep. For example, don't tell your child that nothing will hurt or that there won't be any blood tests.

  • Build your child's confidence by involving her in organizing and packing a few things to help them during their visit. Encourage your child to bring her favorite toys to the hospital, such as a stuffed animal, pillow and videos.

  • Let your child know that it is okay to feel many different ways about going to the hospital, for example, curious, worried, angry or frustrated.

  • If your child seems unusually worried and frightened about her surgery or stay in the hospital, you may want your child to see a counselor. At the Children's Medical Coping Clinic, our psychologists and psychiatrists can provide evaluations, treatment and support for you and your family. Call 617-355-6688 to make an appointment.