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Preparing your child for hospital

If your child is under 5 and has to go into hospital, tell them about what to expect about 1 to 2 days before. Read more tips on preparing your child for hospital

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

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 about 1 to 2 days before.

Be honest and open about what to expect. Your child might imagine something worse than reality if they don't have information. Reassure your child that the hospital visit or stay is necessary and will help them.

Where possible, check the hospital policy 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 and language that your child understands.
  • Help younger children understand what to expect using dolls or teddies.
  • Read a story together about being in hospital - you can download picture stories from Tallaght Hospital.
  • Pack your bags together.
  • Bring your child’s favourite toy or blanket, if the hospital policy allows, to help comfort them.
  • Don't tell your child that something won't hurt if you know that it will or may hurt.
  • Reassure them that you or someone else 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 to them.
  • 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.
  • Don’t 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 can’t keep, such as "you only need to take this medicine once".

Temple Street Children's University Hospital has 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 partner or family can can swap places with you for a while. You need a chance to freshen up, go home to your other children or just have some time to yourself.

Food and drink

Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

Try to eat regularly. Many children's wards have kitchenettes that parents can use.

Page last reviewed: 10/05/2019
Next review due: 10/05/2022