Preparing Your School-Aged Children for Hospitalization or Surgery
Sutter Children's Center, Sacramento
Children seven years and older can begin preparation for a hospital stay one to two weeks before admission. The school-aged child is able to understand explanations about the reason for admission, and should be able to relate to symptoms, illness, or recent doctor visits that he/she has experienced. Many children this age are concerned that their body will be changed by a certain test or surgery, and may be afraid of body mutilation. It is important to assure your child that you are telling him/her about everything that will happen. For example, "The doctor is going to close the hole in your heart, but he/she won't change any other part of our body." Children are less anxious when they know they can trust the people around them to answer their questions honestly and tell them what will be happening.
Books about hospitalization can be helpful in preparing your child, as well as books that show the particular body parts that are related to your child's surgery. It is important to take cues from your child, and only give as much information as your child can handle.
It is common for school-aged children to worry about friends at home and in school. The school-aged child may worry that his/her friends don't know where he/she is or that they don't care about him/her anymore. Before admission, try to talk to the teacher and ask if letters and cards could be sent to the hospital. This can help our child's adjustment during hospitalization, as well as afterwards.
When packing or the hospital, encourage your child to bring whatever he/she likes to have with him/her - favorite toys, blanket, pillow, etc. Pictures of family and friends are important for the school-age child while hospitalized. Phone calls also help the patient to be more comfortable.
You may notice your child's behavior to be different than usual - becoming possibly quiet or angry during the hospitalization. These are normal responses to stress, but it is a good idea to contact the Child Life Specialist for more information regarding these responses.
Hospitalization can effect adolescents in a variety of ways, and we can help them to cope by preparing them for this experience. Some of the things that adolescents are often concerned with include body image (what will happen to their bodies and how they will look and feel), privacy, loss of control and independence, and staying in contact with friends. It is important to offer information about the hospital, surgery, treatments, etc. in as much detail as the adolescent wants. At this age, some adolescents cope best with a lot of information, while some do not want many details at all. In most cases, good preparation will provide the adolescent with a better sense of control over the hospital experience. While hospitalization often takes away a certain degree of independence and control, we can encourage adolescent patients to take responsibility for as much of their care as possible, and we can offer choices and explanations to help them maintain some control.
Teenagers can be private not only about their bodies, but also about their thoughts and feelings. It is important to encourage your child to ask questions and express his/her feelings and concerns, while also respecting his/her need for privacy. To provide some privacy in the hospital, curtains can be drawn, doors can be closed, and signs can be put up for certain "private times".
Your teenager can stay in contact with friends by telephone, and can have friends visit the hospital also. There is a teen room available for adolescent patients (if they are able to leave their rooms) for activities and visits with friends.
Your adolescent may want to bring some familiar things from home that he/she likes to have with her/him, i.e. a walkman and favorite music, hand-held games, a journal, magazines, comfortable clothes, etc.
Any information that you and your adolescent can give to the pediatric staff (including comfort preferences, routines, likes and dislikes) will help us to provide the best care possible.
For more information, or to schedule a pre-admission tour and preparation, call the Child Life Program at 733-1021.
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