Helping Your Child Understand What to Expect
Helping children get ready for something new is important. If your child is ill or has to go to the hospital, you may be concerned about how to explain to them what will happen or answer questions they have about their clinic or hospital visit. Research has shown children can manage new and even scary events better if they know what to expect. Understanding your child's stage of development and how best to respond will help them to feel more at ease throughout treatment.
Below are general guidelines when preparing your child for the BMT and stay at the clinic. Some suggestions may not apply to your circumstances.
- Talk honestly with your child about the trip to the transplant center and explain, in words that your child will understand, why you are making the trip. You may want to use books or other visuals to help tell the story.
- Talk with your child about the plan. You may include details of how you will travel, who will come along, and what will happen with siblings and pets that will be staying at home.
- Talk with your child about what will happen when you arrive at the transplant center. Use words and concepts that children can understand. You might include information about where you will be living, where he or she will receive medical care, and what your schedule will be like.
- Reassure your child that Mom, Dad, or another identifiable caregiver will be with and take care of him or her for the entire stay.
- If you want help talking with your child, ask a social worker or child family life specialist at your local hospital.
- Help your child to make a list of things he or she would like to take along on the trip.
Talking With Your Child About Their Illness
By talking with your child, you can increase their ability to cope with their experience and cooperate during their hospitalization.
Use Simple Language
Using simple, non-threatening words that children are familiar with will help to eliminate any misconceptions that children may have. If you don't know if your child understands a word, ask them.
Provide Only the Amount of Information You Believe Your Child Can Handle
The age of your child may affect what information you provide. If your child is resistant to talking about their upcoming hospitalization or procedure, give them some time and try again. Timing is very important. If given too much time to think about it, some children may become more anxious. If not given enough time to think about it, children may feel rushed and not cope as well. Use the information below as a guide to talking to your child about their hospitalization or procedure.
- Toddlers (1 to 3 years)
Because toddlers do not understand the concept of time, it's best to tell your child about their upcoming hospitalization or procedure one to two days before hand.
- Preschoolers (4 to 5 years)
In most cases, it is appropriate to tell a preschooler about their hospitalization or procedure three to four days prior to the event
- School-age Children (6 to 12 years)
If you have enough advance notice, you can begin preparing your school-age child one to two weeks prior to their hospitalization or procedure.
- Adolescents (13 years and older)
Your teen should be involved in the discussions and decisions about their hospitalization or procedure from the beginning.
To build trust now and for the future, don't mislead your child. Lying or "sugarcoating" the truth may lead to disappointment and confusion. Using soft words to tell a child what they can expect will reinforce to your child that they can trust you and the medical staff.
Children often believe that their medical problem or surgery are really punishments for "being bad." They may not say so, but they may feel guilty and believe that they've brought these things on themselves. Let your child know that their medical problem is not the result of anything he or she may have done or failed to do, and that medical treatment is not a punishment, but simply a way to fix the problem.
Use All Five Senses
Most children learn best through their senses. Help them to understand their experience better by explaining how things may look, taste, feel, smell and sound. Some children may respond well to reading a book and looking at pictures about their upcoming medical experience, while other children may respond better to a hospital tour or playing with a doctor's kit.
Giving your child choices helps them gain a sense of control. However, only give choices when choices are available. For example, your child may not have a choice as to whether or not they want to take their medication, but they may have a choice as to whether they would like to take it before or after their bath.
Don't Make Promises
For example, don't promise your child they will be out of the hospital by a certain day. Try instead to say "We hope to leave by..." If you are unsure about something, ask your child's medical staff for clarification.
Check Your Child's Understanding
Many children have misconceptions about their illness and hospitalization. To address this, ask your child what they are thinking and feeling about their procedure, hospitalization or illness and encourage them to express their feelings through talking, journaling, play or art.
Read with Your Child About Their Situation
Finding the right book to help your child learn about hospitalizations and medical appointments is important. A carefully chosen book helps children learn and ask questions. We recommend you look through several books before showing any to your child. The following books are available through most public libraries or can be purchased.
- Freddie Visits the Doctor, N. Smee: Barrons Juveniles (1999)
- Going to the Hospital, A. Civardi: EDC Publications (2001)
- The Hospital, D. Bailey: Firefly Books (2000) - board book featuring photographs
- Jonathan Goes to the Doctor, S. Baggette: Brookfield Reader (1998) - board book with photographs of toddler visiting his doctor's office
- What to Expect When You Go to the Doctor, H. Murkoff: HarperCollins Juvenile Books (2000)
Popular Character Books (Preschool)
- The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor, S. Berenstain: Random House (1981)
- A Big Operation (The Busy World of Richard Scarry), R. Scarry ed: Aladdin Library (1995)
- A Trip to the Hospital, K. Watson & B. Cosby: Simon Spotlight/Nick Jr. (2001)
- Clifford Visits the Hospital, N. Bridwell: Cartwheel Books (2000) *
- Curious George Goes to the Hospital, Rey: Houghton, Mifflin Co. (1966)
- Disney's Winnie the Pooh: Pooh Gets a Checkup, K. Zoehfeld: Random House (2001)
- Does a hippo say ahh? F. Ehrlich: Blue Apple Books (2003)
- Franklin Goes to the Hospital, S. Jennings: Scholastic Trade (2000) *
- Madeline, L. Bemelmans: Scholastic (1993). Madeline wakes up with appendicitis.
- A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital, D. Hautzig et al: Random House (1985) *
Preschool - School age/General topics
- The Doctor and You, D. Swanson: Annick Press (2001) - Photographs.
- Doctor Tools, I. Snyder: Children's Press (2002)
- Don't You Feel Well, Sam?, A. Hest: Candlewick Press (2002) *
- Going to the Hospital (First Experiences Series), F. Rogers: Penguin and Putnam Books for Young Children (1997)
- The Hospital Book, J. Howe: Morrow, William & Company (1994) - Photographs
- My Doctor, My Friend, P.K. Hallinan: Ideals Children's Book (2002)
- My First Doctor Visit (My First Thirty Word Books), J. Allen: Aro Pub (2001)
- Katie Goes to the Hospital, B. Cork: Peter Bedrick Books (2002)
- When I see my doctor, S. Kuklin: MacMillan Publishing Co (1991)
Preschool - School age/Special Topic
- Chris Gets Ear Tubes, B. Pace: Gallaudet University Press (1987) *
- Good-Bye Tonsils, J. Hatkoff: Viking Children's Books (2001)
- Hospital Emergency Room, C. Beylon: Dover Publications (2001)
- It Can't Hurt Forever, M. Singer: Harper Collin's Children's Books (1978) An 11 yo's experience with heart surgery Jessica's x-ray, P. Zonta: Firefly (2002)
- Koko Bear's Big Earache - Preparing Your Child for Ear Tube Surgery, V. Lansky: A Bantam Book (1988)
- Let's Talk About When You Have to Have Your Tonsils Out (The Let's Talk Library), M. Gordon: Powerkids Press (2003)
- Tubes in My Ears - My Trip to the Hospital, V. Dooley: MONDO Publish (1998)
*Available in Spanish text.
For more information, call 612-672-7272 or 1-800-824-1953 and ask for information about the Children's Preparation Program.