Preparing Your Toddler for the Hospital

Although your toddler will not fully understand all the reasons for staying in the hospital, it is important for parents to know what to expect so you can best prepare and support your child. Toddlers often have difficulty separating from their caregivers. They also may be fearful of people in white coats or medical clothes. Tell the medical team how you expect your child will react, so both you and the staff can help your child cope.

Toddlers need to be told about coming to the hospital one or two days in advance. Most toddlers need basic explanations about what will happen. Use clear and simple words about coming to the hospital. Playing with toy doctor sets and reading stories about the hospital will help children to become familiar with what happens in hospitals. It is very important to be honest with your child about where your child is going the day of admission. 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 the body needs to be fixed or to get well.
  • Talk to your child about 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 will be fixed. If your child will have a bandage or special equipment (such as an IV), put that on the doll, if possible.
  • Reassure your child that you will be with him or her in the hospital (if this is true) and that you will all go home together.
  • Pack your child's favorite stuffed animal, blanket, or other security item. 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 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.