Alert

Child Life specialists ensure the well-being of our patients.

Preparing Your Child for a Hospital Visit or Stay

Visiting the hospital can be a scary experience for children of all ages. It is important to prepare your child in a way that he or she understands. Here is a list of basic tips for how to talk to your child about his or her medical condition:

  • Be honest with your child. This will build trust between you.

  • Use familiar language. Try to use words your child already knows.

  • When your child asks a question that you don’t know the answer to, it is okay to say “I don’t know.”

  • Use the specific name of the diagnosis because your child will hear doctors and nurses say it at the hospital.

  • Help your child understand that he or she did not “catch” the diagnosis, and they cannot “give” it to others.

  • Explain that each person’s body responds differently, so what your child may have seen in a movie or TV show will not necessarily happen to him or her.

  • Encourage your child to talk about his or her feelings.

  • Make sure you are available to answer questions your child may have about the diagnosis and what to expect for the hospital visit.

It is important to talk to your child in a way that makes sense to him or her. Here are a few ideas about how to help your child feel comfortable, based on his or her age:

Infants:

  • Playing soft music and rocking your child can help him or her stay calm.

  • Try to keep your routine as much as possible.

  • Stay calm and relaxed because infants can sense when their caregiver is stressed.

Toddlers:

  • This age group is starting to learn about their body parts, so you can point to the affected area or use the name of the body part when talking about your child’s diagnosis.

  • Toddlers have a short attention span so do not try to give a lot of information all at once.

  • Use simple words, including “boo boo” and “owie” to communicate with your child.

Preschoolers:

  • At this age, children are more familiar with their body parts. Explain to your child which area of his or her body is affected.

  • They interpret words literally. Provide clear explanations and examples to prevent misunderstandings.

  • Talk to your child about the hospital visit a day or two before the visit.

School Age:

  • It is important to clarify any misconceptions your child may have heard from people at school or in movies, tv, etc.

  • Talk to your child about the hospital visit a week or two before the visit.

  • Allow your child to be part of making decisions whenever possible.

Adolescents:

  • Include your teen in any conversations and decisions about his or her condition and experience.

  • Encourage him or her to ask the doctor questions.

  • Advocate for his or her privacy whenever possible.

Where We Are

We work throughout the N.C. Children’s Hospital on all floors. Our office can be reached at 984-974-8872.

Toy Donations: We are always in need of toys and other supplies to be able to serve our patients. You can help by browsing our Amazon Wish List for Child Life activities. All items will go into immediate use to help children adjust and cope with their hospitalization. If you have any questions about gifts-in-kind or would like a receipt for your gift, please contact Becky Batts at becky_batts@med.unc.edu.

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