Tips for Parents About Kids Health: Preparing for Hospital

As part of our series of tips for parents about kids health, Catherine Garland, Senior Play Specialist at The National Children’s Hospital, Tallaght offers some advice on preparing your child for a hospital visit.

There are a variety of reasons a relatively healthy child will need to come to hospital for. Here is some guidance from Catherine on how a parent can help their child through these experiences.

Preparing for HospitalOutpatients Appointment

As a parent, be informed as to the length and nature of the visit. In many cases a number of patients are called for clinics at the same time so be prepared that you may not be seen at the specific time listed on your appointment schedule.

Once you, as an adult, are in the mind-set that you may have to wait, then you may be less likely to pass on impatience and stress to your child.

  • Encourage your child to engage with any activities you may deem appropriate in the waiting area. Ask them to pick out as many fish as they can in the Fish Tank or count the bears illustrated in the pictures on the walls. At The National Children’s Hospital, Tallaght an arts programme runs at various times and is designed to help pass the waiting time by encouraging children to ‘Create While You Wait’.
  • If there are colourful murals lining the walls of the waiting area containing characters from popular fairy tales; this could be a good time to tell your own version of the story or ask your child to tell you theirs.
  • There are always books dotted throughout the waiting area if you need some inspiration but it’s a good idea to bring a book along with you as well.
  • Prepare your child in advance that the medical practitioner may have to examine them physically. Reassure them that you will be with them throughout the visit and can stay for all examinations.
  • For younger kids, perhaps introduce the lead up to the visit through play. Doctors and Nurses kits can be a great ways of doing this. The child can examine their dolls and teddies and enjoy some role playing activity.

Preparing for a Blood Test

Prepare your child in a positive manner. Often adults pass on their anxieties to their children from the manner in which blood tests are spoken about. Be relaxed and calm when explaining the procedure.

  • catherine garlandLet your child know that the nurse will place a blue bracelet on their arm, just above their elbow.
  • They will then spray some freezing magic spray to numb the area and there will be a tiny pinch.
  • The drawing of blood should only take 30 seconds, so you can even count it down together.
  • Try to avoid using the word ‘needle’ with your child, dependant on their age.
  • The nurses will refer to the cannula as the ‘butterfly’ they see.
  • If you think your child is really fearful, there is an extra special magic cream that can be used, but it can take up to forty minutes to be effective.
  • It is best to bring children in for blood tests in warm clothing so that veins can be found easier thus reducing the duration of the procedure.
  • If possible ensure children, particularly babies, are well hydrated.

Preparing for Surgical Day Procedures

Explain to your child in a simplified and relaxed manner that they will be coming into the hospital for a number of hours. It is advisable not to explain too far in advance of the visit, or to talk excessively about it with your child as this may build the sense of occasion and heighten anxiety around it.

  • Teddy bear and stethoscope.If you are discussing the visit with other adults, be mindful of the words you use and how you speak about any procedure around little ears.
  • Be aware of the fasting stipulations outlined and stick to them, double check on your appointment the duration and nature of the fast, whether fluids are allowed or not. It may only be necessary to prepare your child to the point at which they fall asleep – dependant on their age and nature, they do not necessarily need to know the exact details of what will be happening while they sleep.
  • On the night before the visit, allow the child to prepare and pack their own bag. Their favourite pyjamas, teddy and blanket can all be included.
  • Please don’t tell your child they are going on their holidays as this may confuse them and lead to more distress on the day. In The National Children’s Hospital, Tallaght a parent or guardian may accompany the child as far as the theatre and stay with their child until they fall asleep.
  • A play specialist may also be available to prepare your child for the trip to theatre if necessary.
  • As a parent or guardian, you will be called before your child wakes up so you can reassure them that you will be there when they wake up.

You might also find Preparing a Child For Hospital useful.

Over to you now, do you have a tip for other parents on how you prepared your child for a visit to hospital? Share it with us in the comments below. 

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Jill is one of the co-founders of Mykidstime and a mum of 2 girls