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Preparing your child for hospital

Your child may have to go to hospital at some stage. This could be for tests, a planned operation, or following an accident or illness.

There are things you can do to help prepare your child for going to the hospital.

Talk to your child about hospital

Prepare your child as much as you can before they go to hospital. As a general guide, tell children under 5 years of age about 1 to 2 days before.

Be honest about what to expect. Talk to them in a way that is understandable for their age and stage of development. Your child might imagine something worse than reality if they do not have information. Reassure your child that the hospital visit or stay will help them.

Check in advance to see if you can stay with your child overnight. If not, tell your child when they will be able to see you.

Tips for talking to your child about hospital:

  • Choose a quiet time and use a calm, relaxed voice.
  • Use words that your child understands.
  • Reassure your child if they ask a question you cannot answer. Write down the question and ask staff when you are in the hospital.
  • Help younger children understand what to expect using dolls or teddies.
  • Read a story together about being in hospital.
  • Pack your bags together.
  • Bring your child’s favourite toy or blanket to comfort them, if the hospital policy allows this.
  • Do not tell your child that something will not hurt if you know that it could hurt them.
  • Reassure them that you or someone they love and trust will be with them as much as possible.

While your child is in hospital

  • Explain as much as you can to your child so they know what is happening.
  • Be prepared for your child to be upset during this time.
  • Cuddle and reassure them as much as possible.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about how they feel.
  • Do not blame the nurse or doctor when something hurts - your child needs to build up a good relationship with them.
  • If your child uses any special words for the toilet or for particular foods, tell the staff.
  • Try not to make promises you cannot keep, such as "you only need to take this medicine once".

You could also take along a notebook and activity sheets to keep your child occupied while they're in hospital.

Download a hospital diary booklet and activity sheets for children -

Looking after yourself when your child is in hospital

Having your child admitted to hospital can be stressful. You may need to take time off work or make arrangements for your other children.

Your emotions

It is normal to have a wide range of emotions, including anxiety, fear and relief. Your child may be very sensitive to your emotions.

By recognising and dealing with your own emotions, you will be more able to support your child. It is very important to look after yourself too. Try to talk to someone close or hospital staff so that you too have support during this time.

Support from staff

The nurses and doctors in the hospital are there to support you as well as your child. Never be afraid to ask questions or to talk to them about any worries you may have about your child.

What to bring

Wear light clothing. Hospitals can be very warm, especially paediatric (children’s) wards.

Bring your mobile phone and charger so you can connect with family and friends when needed. Check with the nursing staff before using your phone.

Planning your day

Bring in something for yourself to pass the time. Take short breaks.

Organise your schedule so that your family can swap places with you for a while. You need a chance to freshen up, go home to your other children or have some time to yourself.

Food and drink

Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Try to eat as often as usual. Many children's wards have kitchenettes that parents can use.

Page last reviewed: 2 February 2023
Next review due: 2 February 2026