Preparing for and talking to your child
about their stay in hospital

A guide for parents and carers from our psychology, play therapy and nurse specialist team to help reduce anxiety. 

Before your child comes in for an operation or procedure there are some things you may want to consider when talking to them about their visit:

Time to talk

Choose a quiet time to talk to your child and use a calm and relaxed tone. Ask what your child knows or thinks about hospitals. Start with the issues your child thinks are the most important.

Use honest and simple explanations for what will be happening to your child.

When you tell your child that they are coming into hospital for a test or procedure, let them know that you think this is the best thing to do and where possible give yourself time to absorb the information first before talking to your child. Children can usually sense how you feel, so it is important to stay positive while discussing things with your child, as they will pick up on your anxiety.

Tell your child about any plans for an overnight stay at the hospital and let your child know that you will be sleeping there with them. Encourage your child to bring their favourite teddy or toy with them to make them feel more relaxed.

When you have explained what will be happening, ask your child some questions so that you know they have understood what you have told them.  There may be some anxiety the first time or first few times you talk to your child about hospital. 

Anxiety makes it difficult to retain information so expect to repeat what you have said. It may help to jointly write down or draw what you have talked about.

Useful videos

Here are some useful videos that may be helpful to share with your child before coming to hospital. 

Hospital related toys and books

There are many hospital related toys and books that you may want to use with your child before their appointment, so that hospitals and doctors do not seem quite so scary.

Please ask our play specialists about popular toys and books that are currently available.

Encouraging your child to play with hospital related toys and activities once they are there; it is also a good way of taking their mind off things and helps them to relax into their surroundings.

 

Once you have spoken to your child about the procedure, give them permission to ask you questions at any time following this. Keeping communication open can really help to manage anxiety.

Asking questions

Let your child know that they can ask doctors and nurses questions if they want to when they arrive or before they come by contacting the cardiac nurse specialist team. If they are too scared to ask questions, let them know that you will do that for them.

Children, particularly younger children, will often ask questions when they are involved in an activity or whilst they are playing. This can understandably catch parents off guard and it can be difficult to know how to answer certain questions.

It can be helpful to have a stock phrase to use, for example ‘That is a really good question. I’m going to have a think about it and then we can talk together about it. Is that okay?’ This allows time to think about how you would like to answer or check things out with the medical team first.

Ways to support and comfort your child

Involve siblings

If your child has any brothers or sisters, it is important to involve them in your child's stay in hospital. They may have their own questions and worries about what is happening to their sibling.

Plan together

Involving children appropriately in the planning process will help to build confidence and reduce anxiety associated with a hospital stay. You may want to involve them in organising and packing a few things for their hospital stay including toys, games etc. to occupy them whilst waiting. Let them know that they will be able to speak to and see friends and family whilst they are in hospital via video calls.

Talk about feelings and emotions

Let your child know that is okay to feel many different things before, during and after their procedure and about their stay in hospital. They might feel worried, scared or curious about what will be happening to them​

Something to look forward to

Some children like to choose a small reward to look forward to at home after the procedure is finished. Your child may want to take a picture of the reward with them into hospital to remind them of the special thing they are looking forward to.

A range of emotions are normal and understandable

Our whole team are here to support you and your child. If you would like additional support in preparing your child for an admission, please contact the cardiac nurse specialist team to discuss a referral to the play specialist and/or the child psychology team.

Talking about procedures, blood tests and other investigations which may be painful or uncomfortable

Tell your child about how he or she will/may feel before, during and after their procedure. For example, if your child is having a general anaesthetic, you may to want to explain to your child that they will not see, hear or feel anything during the operation as they will be asleep. Try and avoid the phrase ‘put to sleep’ when explaining this.

It is important to mention any scars they may have after their procedure and if any of the tests may hurt.

Try not to make any promises you can’t keep, for example, saying that things won’t hurt or that your child won’t have any blood tests. Use words your child will understand such as ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘scratch’.

Consider and discuss with your child’s wishes during procedures, for example before taking a blood test or having a cannula, you may want to discuss:

  • Do they want to look or look away?
  • Would they like to sit on your lap or next to you?
  • Would they like to see the blood test materials involved?
  • Would they like to say ‘ready’?
Red heart and stethoscope on wooden background

Looking after you too

A hospital visit for your child also means a hospital visit for you as parents or caregivers and therefore it may be associated with a mixture of emotions for you too. 

Take some time to think about what will help look after you during the hospital visit. This may include:

  • simple relaxation strategies to use during your child’s procedure
  • having a supportive family member or friend you can call whilst your child is having a procedure
  • eating, drinking and getting some daylight and fresh air.

Our psychology team are available to support your when you are in hospital. Please let the nurse specialists or the nurse looking after your child know if you would like to access the service.