Hospitals can be intimidating places for children, especially those with behavioral, sensory, or communication vulnerabilities. Having a plan to support your child before, during, and after their hospital visit or stay can help provide a more comfortable experience.
Before Coming to the Hospital
Talking to your child about the upcoming hospital visit can help manage fears or anxiety. When talking to your child about their upcoming visit:
- Have open communication about what to expect, using language they can understand.
- Use pictures as an added resource to support your conversation.
- Answer any questions to the best of your ability.
Your child may also benefit from:
- Roleplay, reading books or social narratives about the hospital and healthcare providers
- Medical play kits can be a helpful tool in normalizing the hospital experience
- Pictures and videos of the hospital before their stay
Whether you are coming for a short visit or overnight stay, bringing items that are comforting to your child can contribute to your child feeling less anxious during their stay. Allowing your child to choose their favorite blanket, toy, or sensory tool to bring may also provide comfort. If your child uses a communication device, tool, or aid, remember to bring it along.
While at the Hospital
- If staying overnight, continue your child’s home routine as much as possible. Daily tasks like brushing teeth, bathing, napping, and mealtimes can provide the comfort of consistency in a different environment.
- Allow your child to make as many choices as possible during their visit. Some examples include the color of socks or food choice (dietitian and medically appropriate, based on current diagnosis/care plan).
- Communicate needs or preferences to your child’s care team, including their likes, dislikes, significant fears or triggers, communication method(s), and anything crucial to your child’s care. Reach out to the Child Life/Adaptive Care team before the hospitalization with any additional needs.
After the Hospital
A hospital visit may be scary and disruptive, which can impact your child’s behavior. To support your child during this transition, allow time for your child to adjust, and resume your home routine as soon as they are ready. Talk to your child about the hospital visit and allow them to ask questions. Communication will help your child in understanding and preparing for future visits.
Gisselle Arriete, BCBA, Behavior Liaison Clinical Coordinator
Gabriela Baralt, BCBA, Behavioral Resource Advocate