Going to hospital can be challenging for children and teenagers. But you can make a hospital stay easier by communicating with health professionals, setting up routines and keeping your child engaged in learning. Looking after yourself is important too.
Your child’s hospital stay: communicating with health professionals
When your child is in hospital, you’ll probably talk with lots of doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
Sometimes these health professionals use medical terms that you might find confusing. It’s OK to ask questions if you don’t understand or need more information.
Sometimes it can be hard to remember information from a conversation with a health professional, so writing it down or asking the staff to write it down for you can be helpful.
It’s also a good idea to keep a list of questions you and your child want to ask the health care team, so you don’t have to remember them on the spot.
Routines during a hospital stay
Finding a routine while your child is in hospital can help things feel more normal and less scary.
Of course, this isn’t always easy to do and you might need to adjust your routine to suit therapy appointments – for example, physiotherapy – or meetings with doctors.
It’s a good idea to talk with staff about a realistic routine for you and your child, including scheduling regular meals and sleeps when you can.
You can also vary the routine as your child’s condition changes and improves. For example, you could find out when your child might be able to sit up in bed or walk to the cafeteria.
Visitors during a hospital stay
It can be helpful to let your family and friends know when it’s OK to visit, and for how long. This is particularly important if your child is very unwell or has had a major procedure and needs rest.
Always think about your child’s needs when you’re making decisions about visitors. It can also help to:
- suggest visitors don’t come until your child is home
- give visitors specific times to come, so you know when to expect them
- limit how long visitors stay, so your child has time to rest and recover
- limit how many people visit at a time – a good guide is a maximum of 4-5 people.
Staying engaged, connected and entertained during a hospital stay
If your child feels bored, frustrated and anxious in hospital, that’s normal. But it can help to have some activities up your sleeve. These activities can give your child the chance to engage in learning and stay connected with family, friends and schoolmates. And they can help your child pass the time too.
Engaging in learning
- Ask your child’s teacher or teachers for homework to do in hospital. The teachers might be able to email you the work so you don’t have to go into school to collect it.
- If your child’s teacher uses online learning platforms like StudyLadder, Spelling City, Mathletics or HOTmaths, ask whether the teacher could set your child some tasks on these platforms. Your child can work through the tasks in his own time and at his own pace.
- Set up Skype or other video chat apps so your child can make a virtual visit to her classroom.
- Bring in a laptop or tablet so your child can do some research and put together a presentation on a topic that interests him. The presentation could be in any form he likes – slideshow, video, poster and so on.
- Speak with hospital staff about hospital school or learning programs.
- Set up your child to use email or social media to exchange news with her teacher, classmates, friends and family.
- Get your child some postcards, writing paper and stamps, so he can stay connected the old-fashioned way!
- Let your child use video chat apps to see and talk with friends and family.
Entertaining your child
- Suggest your child makes a picture book. Single random drawings get boring very quickly, so help your child do drawings for a picture book that tells a story.
- Take in some board games to play with your child.
- Read, read – and then read some more! If you’re not sure what books your child might like, ask your child’s teacher to recommend some. Try reading with your child too.
- If reading is too much for your child, try listening to audiobooks or podcasts.
- Use a tablet in creative ways, as well as just for playing games – playing games gets frustrating and boring after a while. Your child could record interviews with people around her, or make videos or a picture journal of her hospital stay. Older children can create animations, blogs or music.
If your child is going to a major children’s hospital, check out the hospital’s website. Most children’s hospitals are well set up to help children stay interested and engaged in learning during a hospital stay.
Looking after yourself
Going to hospital is a stressful family experience. One of the best things you can do for your child is to look after your physical and mental health by eating well, finding ways to relax, and trying to get as much sleep as you can.
Here are some ways you can get the physical and mental rest you need:
- Speak with staff about when you can take a break, even if it’s just for 5-10 minutes to go for a walk or get a coffee.
- Make a visiting roster for family and friends, especially if your child is in hospital for a longer time. This will give you a break, while also ensuring your child has someone with him.
- Use the hospital’s family support services, like play therapists or the family resource centre.
- Get a family member or friend to look after your other children.
- Find out about the local area around the hospital – there might be a park or café nearby, where you can spend some time.
- Sleep when your child sleeps. If you’re well rested, you’ll be better able to think and make decisions.