Your child is going to spend some time in the hospital. Endless thoughts. You are concerned about the medical issues, worried sick, nervous about the hospitalization, sad.
Maybe you knew ahead of time about the hospitalization and maybe it crept up on you out of the blue. Either way, it sucks. We hope you talk about your fears and cry if you need to, Because at some point you will need to suck it all in and prepare your child for this experience as well. Preparing your child can go a long way in terms of relieving anxiety before and during the hospitalization. Additionally, minimizing the element of surprise can prove helpful in the way a child processes the experience and later the memory. The following suggestions are not perfect, but they do work to a great extent. Don’t think you can be perfect; not possible in any situation and certainly not here – ultimately the hospital is not where a child wants to be. We hope the following pointers can help, even just a little bit.
There is bound to be some unpleasantness; Treatments, shots, maybe surgery, If your child doesn’t bring it up, you probably should so it doesn’t catch your child by surprise. Be as honest as possible but with a soft touch. Probably the exams, touching with gloved fingers and pressing stethoscopes (sometimes cold) to a little one’s chest, are uncomfortable and embarrassing. Tell your child that you understand and sympathize with this, but doctors can find out how to take care of her/him this way and the doctor does it to lots of kids all the time so he’s not really acting weird. Sometimes the discussion gets painful – shots or surgery, and here it gets difficult and just be up front, honest, sympathetic (as you actually are). The worst thing is to avoid the conversation.
Schedule a Visit
If possible, visit the hospital with your child days before admission to meet with the nursing staff in the hospital. The benefit of this meeting is to get your child comfortable with the new people in his/her life, starting with the nursing staff and the doctors. It’s important to remember that nurses and doctors chose the profession because they are empathetic. Pediatric doctors and nurses love kids and will play and bond with the children in their care. Also, it is a good strategy to let your child know he/she is not the only youngster in the hospital. Other kids will be going through a similar hospital experience and there is a good chance your child will make friends – These friends can prove significant as they are other children to talk to about the hospital experience in a way that they may not be able to talk to their friends from home who don’t share the experience. Also, equally important, they get to forget about the reason they are in the hospital and can act like kids around their peers. Who knows, maybe some of the kids your child meets will remain friends after the hospital stay.
Lighten the mood
On the visit to the hospital, before the day of admission, engage your child to get his/her thoughts – about the strangeness of the place; funny hospital smells, old people pushing IV poles, beepers beeping, etc. – the goal is to let them know you find all this stuff strange too, but in the end not scary. Try to lighten the mood at times by talking about things they could find funny, Maybe they can pretend the IV drip gives people superpowers and discuss what superpower they would give each person getting an IV drip. Or, you could probably make light of the meals at the hospital - maybe it tastes like dad’s cooking :)
Prepare for Separation (if relevant)
In long hospitalization, It is more than likely that even with a support system and even though you are a superhuman/super star, You won’t be able to accompany your child 24/7. Between the need to provide financially and other children that might be in the picture and even the repeated suggestions from the hospital staff to go home, your child might stay in the good hands of the nurses. Both parents and kids are challenged with separation; everything from and evening with a babysitter to a first day at school to – and this time it was unanticipated. The trick is to have your child confident that it is a temporary separation and that you will always be near, easily reachable by phone and ready to come to their bedside. We’re living in the age of instant communication and that’s good for you too; you’re never truly out of contact with your child.
Whatever you say as a loving parent will go a long way to calming your child. She/he trusts you unconditionally and knows how much your love translates to doing the right thing. Let your child know that there might be pain with treatment, but the doctor and nurse know that too and have strong medicine to relieve most of it. With time, the body heals itself and the pain will go away. And kids are stronger than adults anyway, so kids’ bodies heal quicker.
It is unfortunate for a child to need hospitalization, but thankfully medical advances have allowed for wonderful results. You have some challenges ahead of you as does your child. You are the most important player in this interruption in the normal flow of your family’s life and you are up to the challenge and will do your best. Don’t forget, it is equally important to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your child as best as you can. Your child needs you to be strong and part of that comes with eating, drinking and taking short breaks when necessary.
Hopefully, some of the suggestions above will help you help your child manage hospitalization in a calm and peaceful way.