Talking to Your Child

It’s important to remember that parents know their children best, especially how they handle stressful situations and cope with information – their unique needs and developmental spectrum.  When a child is hospitalized, it can be stressful for the whole family, including the patient’s siblings. Our team is available to help parents and families cope with the stress an illness may bring. Below are some resources to help, but we encourage you to talk with a social worker or child life specialist if you need additional support.

Age-appropriate tips for parents whose child is hospitalized:

Toddlers

  • Having parents present is a comfort and very important
  • Provide basic information
  • Tell toddlers a day or two before the hospital visit
  • Bring comfort items, like a stuff animal, blanket or favorite book
  • Consider getting a toy medical kit so the child can practice on a doll or stuffed animal

School-aged children

  • Share information with children
  • Talk about the hospitalization or procedure in terms they can understand
  • Explain that the reason for the hospitalization is so that the doctors and nurses can make the problem get better
  • Sensory information is important: if it will smell funny or feel uncomfortable, tell the child

Adolescents

  • Adolescents need a lot of information
  • They need to prepare themselves and information helps
  • Encourage them to ask questions and be honest

Teens

  • Like adolescents, teens need a lot of information
  • Some questions they have may be uncomfortable or embarrassing, so encourage teens to write down their questions so that parents or a healthcare provider can answer them

Tips to help siblings cope:

Each child is different and may express their feelings in different ways, but some common behaviors to monitor are:

  • Some children will act out to get attention, while other may become withdrawn and quiet
  • Some children have trouble sleeping or lose interest in eating
  • Some children revert to behaviors they had when they were younger, such as thumb-sucking and bed-wetting
  • Some children may have trouble in school

Honest and open communication is important

When children understand the reasons for their sibling’s hospitalizations, it reduces their worries. You should also:

  • Let your children know that all of their feelings are okay
  • Let them know that you are willing to answer their questions and listen to their concerns
  • Young children often convey fears through play, so pay attention to that
  • As much as possible, allow siblings to be involved with the patient’s care or other tasks that are helpful to the family
  • Read books with your children that pertain to your particular situation
  • Let your children’s teachers know what is going on so they can be aware of any changes in behavior.
  • If possible, allow siblings to visit the hospital 

For more information or a consultation, contact our Child Life Department.