Preparing Your Preschooler for the Hospital

Most preschool-age children can understand simple explanations about a hospital stay. Although your child will not fully understand about all the reasons for admission, he may be angry or believe that hospitalization is a punishment for something he did wrong. It is important to reassure your child they are not being punished. Preschoolers also have very active imaginations. Provide clear, simple reasons for coming to the hospital. Playing with medical supplies and reading stories about the hospital will help children be prepared.

Young children need to be prepared a few days before you come to the hospital. It is very important to be honest with your child about where your child is going. Many parents worry about upsetting their child by being truthful. However, keep in mind that your child will also be upset once they discover what is going on. It is best to be honest so your child learns to trust you.

  • Use simple language to explain that the doctors have decided that a part of her body is sick or needs to be fixed.
  • Reassure your child that he or she has not done anything wrong.
  • Tell your child what they will see, hear, smell and feel while at the hospital. You can get this information from your child's doctor, nurse or child life specialist.
  • Use a doll or stuffed animal to show your child which part of the body is sick. If your child will have a bandage or special equipment (such as an IV) talk about that in advance and demonstrate on the doll, if possible.
  • Reassure your child that you will be with him or her in the hospital and that you will all go home together.
  • Encourage your child to bring a favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or other security item from home. This can accompany your child to procedures, operations and tests.
  • Read stories about going to the hospital. Allow your child to play with pretend medical equipment. Listen or watch for any misunderstandings or concerns your child might have. Make this a fun time for you and your child.

Keep in mind that not only the words you use but also your feelings and body language (such as your tone of voice and facial expressions) can help your child feel more confident about the hospital visit. If you appear fearful and doubtful, your child may be more stressed than necessary. As a parent, you play a key role in creating a positive hospital experience for your child.