Going to hospital: concerns for babies, toddlers and preschoolers

Going to hospital is a challenging experience for young children.

Common concerns for babies, toddlers and preschoolers include:

  • being separated from you and other family members
  • meeting and being physically handled by strangers
  • not understanding what’s happening – for example, being given an injection
  • changing their normal routines, such as feeding and sleeping patterns
  • having to lie down or stay in bed for a long time
  • imagining scary or funny things that might happen to them in hospital – preschoolers have amazing imaginations!

Tips to help
Here are some things you can do to help your baby, toddler or preschooler cope with the hospital experience:

  • If you know your child is going to hospital, read stories together about hospitals, what happens in hospitals, who works in hospitals and so on.
  • Visit the hospital. If you can’t get to the hospital, you could try looking at pictures of it online. When your child is admitted to hospital, stay with him in the hospital, if and when you can.
  • If you’re expecting an overnight stay, ask the hospital whether you can stay with your child.
  • Keep routines as close to normal as possible – for example, have meals and sleeps at your usual family times if you can. If you can’t follow your usual routine, try to set up a routine for your stay.
  • Bring familiar things from home to help your child feel secure – for example, your child’s favourite comforter or teddy bear if she has one.
  • Ask beforehand if you can hold your child on your lap for procedures and tests. Stay calm and speak softly in a reassuring voice during procedures and tests, even if your child is in pain or upset.
If your child is very anxious about going to hospital, ask hospital staff for strategies to help. You could start by talking to the hospital’s play therapists. Some hospitals offer preadmission visits, which can give you and your child more information and help you get familiar with the hospital.

Going to hospital: concerns for older children and teenagers

As children get older, they’ll be more aware of what’s happening to them and might have to deal with some other challenges and concerns about going to hospital.

Common concerns for older children and teenagers include:

  • going through the procedure and any pain it might cause
  • being separated from you, home, family and friends
  • missing out on social activities with friends
  • losing their privacy or feeling like they don’t have their own space
  • being, looking or feeling different after the procedure
  • being left alone in hospital
  • falling behind everyone else at school.

Tips to help
Here are some things you can do to help your older child or teenager:

  • Answer all your child’s questions and concerns. If you don’t know the answer, work with your child to find out – for example, talk to health professionals or look online together.
  • Describe things in terms of what your child might see, feel, smell, taste, hear and so on. For example, if your child needs an MRI, you could talk about and look at pictures of the MRI machine.
  • Read books or look at websites about how the adolescent body works. This can help your child understand how the procedure will or won’t affect him in the short and long term.
  • Help your child stay engaged with learning and connected with family, friends and classmates by setting her up with video chat apps and email. Our article on managing a hospital stay has more ideas.

You don’t need to cover everything, just the things you know your child might be unsure or worried about.