Preparing Your Preschooler for Hospitalization
Sutter Children's Center, Sacramento
Three or four days before admission is a good time to provide explanations to the preschooler about the hospital. Preschoolers are able to understand simple explanations such as, "The doctor is going to fix your heart," or "The doctor needs to do a test to see why your head hurts." They may have questions about the hospital experience and may have fears about pain and separation from parents. It is important to answer their questions simply and honestly. Children are less anxious when they know that they can trust the people around them to answer their questions honestly and to tell them what will be happening. Books are a good source of preparation for the preschooler. Allow questions and comments from the child while reading and looking at pictures together.
It is very common for the preschooler to have misconceptions regarding the hospitalization. He/she may think he/she has done something wrong, and that going to the hospital is a punishment. This guilt can be clarified if explanations are provided. You can reassure your preschooler, even before the hospitalization, that he/she has done nothing wrong to cause it.
It is important for the preschooler to help pack his/her suitcase and to bring any kind of security item such as a blanket, pillow, favorite toy, etc. If your preschooler has brothers and sisters, he/she may miss them while in the hospital. Pictures of family, pets, etc. can be packed in the suitcase too!
Dramatic play is a very big part of most preschooler's lives. Many children like to pretend to be mommy, daddy, etc. Your child may want to play doctor and nurse before he/she is admitted. This can be done with the child's own dolls or stuffed animal. Allow your child to express any feelings he/she may have. This is a good opportunity to observe any misconceptions, fears or concerns your child may have.
No matter how much preparation has been done, hospitalization can still be very stressful for the preschooler. The preschooler may have some definite behavioral responses to the stress. He/she may not know how to say "I am angry" or "I am frustrated and sad," so he/she may let us know through his/her behaviors. These behaviors may include temper tantrums, refusing to do necessary things, excessive whining and crying and being very demanding. Parents can help their preschooler by acknowledging what the feelings may be, (for example, "I know you are angry, but I cannot let you throw that.") and by giving choices whenever possible.
The preschooler may become very angry at a parent. This is usually confusing to parents, because they are not the ones causing the stress of hospitalization. However, the preschooler knows he/she can trust you the most and knows that you will still love him/her. He/she feels comfortable enough with you to express himself/herself. Please feel free to discuss your child's behavior with his/her Child Life Specialist.
For more information, or to schedule a pre-admission tour and preparation, call the Child Life Program at 733-1021.
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