Supporting your child during a hospital stay

We encourage you to spend as much time with your child as possible. Your child especially needs your love and attention during this time. We understand, however, that not all families are able to devote every day to the hospital, and that every parent needs to spend some time away from the hospital. Here are some tips to keep in mind to support your child during a hospital stay:

Younger children (infant to pre-teen)

When you’re with your child:

  • We encourage you to be with your child during uncomfortable tests or procedures. However, we respect your decision not to be present during a procedure. Ask your nurse or child life specialist about these issues.
  • Let your child express fears, and show that you respect them. Be reassuring and encourage questions. When you answer, be truthful and use words your child can understand.
  • Don’t deny that there are unpleasant aspects to being in the hospital. Explain that uncomfortable procedures or tests are done to help doctors and nurses find out how your child’s body is working and to help your child stay well.
  • Don’t use the hospital or painful treatments, such as a shot, as a threat to make your child behave.
  • Try to give an honest explanation of new or strange things. When your child doesn’t understand something, he or she may make up an explanation that’s far worse than reality.
  • The stress of a hospital stay may cause your child to act less mature than usual. Your child may ask for help with things that he or she usually does alone. This is normal.
  • It is usually possible for one parent or guardian to sleep overnight in your child’s room. It depends on the needs of your child, your needs as the parent or guardian and whether space is available. Your nurse can discuss guidelines to consider when deciding whether to room-in with your child.

When you leave your child’s room:

  • Before you go, please let your child’s nurse know that you are leaving. Being away from a parent can be a difficult part of a hospital stay for children, especially those under age five or six.
  • Try short separations at first. Take a 10-minute break and slowly extend the length of time you’re gone.
  • Always tell your child that you’re leaving and when you’ll be back. It may be tempting to leave while your child is occupied, but that may make your child feel abandoned. With younger children, describe when you’ll be back in terms of familiar daily routines, like “I’ll be back after dinner.”
  • Write down important phone numbers for an older child.
  • Explain that when you return, you’ll always be able to find your child. Sometimes children don’t want to leave their rooms for the playroom or tests because they fear their parents won’t be able to find them.
  • When you return, you may feel anger or rejection from your child. This is normal — children who have trouble separating may also have difficulty reuniting. Try to overcome your hurt and let your child approach you in his or her own way.
  • When you can’t visit, phone calls can help show you care.

Helping teenagers

Teens react to hospitalization much differently than younger children, but you can still be supportive.

  • Encourage your teen to participate — ask questions, take part in activities and take an active role in the hospital experience.
  • Your teen may want privacy sometimes. Visits from family are important, but teens may alternate between wanting their families nearby and wanting privacy. Ask your teen how he or she feels.
  • Remember that being away from friends can be stressful for some teens. They may wonder, “Do they still like me? What am I missing?” You can encourage your teen to stay in touch with friends and encourage friends to visit the hospital.
  • Once home, work together to help your teen resume the routines of school, work, home and social life while following any guidelines from the doctor or nurse at the time of discharge from the hospital.


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