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Preparing for Hospitalization

An Age-by-Age Guide

Every stage in life presents its own set of challenges when it comes to hospitalization. As a parent, you'll want to understand as much as you can in order to help your child successfully transition through hospitalization and treatment. Here are some important things to keep in mind when preparing your child for a hospital stay-at any age!

Infancy

Because infants have not yet developed advanced means of expression such as talking and gesturing, they are unable to tell you precisely what's wrong with them. Understandably, this can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness for many parents. Here are some helpful things to remember while caring for your hospitalized infant.

  • Remember the importance of parent-child bonding at this stage-infants respond positively to touch and physical closeness. As your child's condition allows, stay as close as possible to him/her.
  • Mom and Dad's presence and reactions provide the best support in handling fear, pain and separations.

Pre-school

At this stage, children may view illness and/or injury as a punishment for bad behavior. It is important for parents to reassure that the illness is not the child's fault and that nothing involved in treatment (surgery, needle pokes, medicine) is a punishment. Rather, these things are all important ways to make the child well again. Here are some ways you can assist your pre-schooler during his or her time at Avera Children's Hospital.

  • Children at this stage feel a need to have a sense of mastery, which often means asking many questions. A lack of knowledge can lead to fantasies which are almost always worse than reality. Offer simple and truthful explanations. If you are unsure about an answer, consult with your child's doctor.
  • It may be helpful to prepare your child for what he or she will experience during his/her stay.
  • Allow choices.
  • Provide a routine and stick with it.
  • Comfort items (such as a favorite blanket or teddy bear) can help to ease anxiety.

School age

During school-age years, children begin to understand body processes and functions and wish to understand all they can about their illness or injury. As in earlier years, feelings that the illness/injury is a punishment for bad behavior may occur, but may take some time to express. They may also become fearful of the loss of control or loss of wholeness that an illness or injury can produce. Here are some ways to help your school-aged child deal with hospitalization.

  • Provide simple, honest explanations. Your child will want to know about his/her illness and the procedures required. If you are unsure about an illness, treatment or procedure, ask your child's doctor. Your child's doctor can help your child understand the cause of illness and process for treatment.
  • Help your child continue to do tasks or assignments as able.
  • Allow your child time to see and speak with friends.

Adolescence

Just as your child will begin to assert his or her independence in other areas of his or her life, so to will he/she do so when it comes to health-related issues. As a result, adolescents may rely less on family support than children in other stages of life and look for reassurance and acceptance from his/her peer group. However, there are still ways you, as a parent, can assist your adolescent in coping with illness and hospitalization. Understanding what your child is experiencing can help.

  • Your adolescent child will almost certainly wish to be involved in decisions about care and treatment. Listen carefully to how he or she expresses him/herself.
  • Privacy is also an important value for adolescent children; one that can create tension. Discuss expectations up-front.
  • Concerns about being "different" are often heightened during this time-feelings which may become even more complicated during an illness or injury. Children at this stage want to be accepted by their peer groups.
  • Provide honest answers to questions related to health care.
  • Adolescents may have difficulty following medical regimes (therapy, medication, etc.) Rebellion of this variety may jeopardize their health.
  • Adolescence is often a time for planning for the future. An illness or injury at this stage in life can call these plans into question. It is important to allow time for frank discussion of hopes, dreams and fears at these times.

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