No parent wants their child to go into hospital, but planning ahead and talking about what will happen can help make it easier for everyone in the family.
It’s entirely natural that your child and you may be a little bit anxious about the prospect of visiting hospital – but don’t be tempted to mislead them about where they are going or what is going to happen.
“If you do not tell your child the truth and tell them they are going somewhere fun or don’t tell them they are having an operation, then they won’t trust anything else you or anyone else at the hospital tells them,” says Rachel Hall, a Clinical Nurse Specialist at The Portland Hospital.
“This can make their stay more traumatic than it needs to be.”
For young children it can be helpful to show them books about going to hospital such as those in the Miffy or Peppa Pig range and often it helps to take your child into hospital for a visit ahead of their stay.
“In our experience, that really helps especially if a child is nervous. It means that when they come in for their treatment the hospital is a little bit more familiar to them,” Rachel adds.
As parents, it is worthwhile talking to staff beforehand to ensure you know what will happen to your child every step of the way so you can prepare them for what lies ahead.
When you discuss the hospital visit with your child, choose your words with care and avoid overly graphic descriptions. “For example, rather than saying ‘the doctor is going to use big needles and instruments’, explain that the doctor is going to have a look at what might be making you feel ill and fix it so you can feel better,” says Marsha Jadoonanan, a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Pain Management at The Portland Hospital. “If they are going to have a general anaesthetic, it may be helpful to let your child know that they will be sleepy afterwards, but if at any time they feel uncomfortable to let you or the nurses know.” Not every youngster will let on when they don’t feel well, so remind your child to tell staff if they feel poorly.
“It can be hard for a child to describe how they feel – our play therapist can encourage discussion about how your child may be feeling through play, for example using dolls, drawing or painting,” says Marsha. Obviously, you can’t prepare young babies for what lies ahead but they often cope with the hospital experience better than you may expect. Yet a teenager may need more preparation than you think.
“Parents tend to think older children or teenagers will cope better but they are more aware and do need to be prepared as it’s as scary for them as any child,”says Rachel.
The same rules apply as with younger children – tell them what to expect. Often it is the parents that are more anxious than the child so try to relax and remember that your child is in safe hands with experienced doctors and nurses who will guide you every step of the way. Listen to their guidance regarding age appropriate advice for your child and their individual condition and surgery. A paediatric Anaesthetist and play therapist will provide key guidance to you and yourchild about being put to sleep.
The Key things to remember:
1. Always be honest with your child. Use appropriate, subtle language to explain what will happen to them.
2. Try not to show you are nervous in front of your child as this may increase their anxiety. So, for example, if you don’t like needles then discreetly look away as your child has an injection but don’t flinch or wince.
3. Children normally find it helpful to visit the hospital before treatment.
4. Don’t forget to pack favourite toys or games to help comfort your child – and distract them if needs be.
5. As a parent don’t forget to discretely eat and drink away from your child before hospital. You need your stamina and once in the confines of the hospital room or ward you will find it impossible to eat in front of your starved child until post surgery.
My personal Experience – Lucy Elkins
At the age of eight, my son Louis is soon to have his third operation and I can’t pretend that he is happy about it. I have calmed him by talking about the benefits it will bring him (in his case, improvements to his hearing).
Also I have talked to him less about the actual operation – that upsets him – but I have readied him about what to expect. So we have discussed that I will be with him when he goes to sleep in the anaesthetic room and that he will go to theatre but I will be just outside.
I have described the recovery room and he knows that is where I will be when he starts to wake up. I have warned him that he will wake up with a bandage on his ears and yes I have thrown in the odd mention of a treat so that he focuses on that and not the surgery. He’s still not looking forward to it but at least the tears have stopped.
As for me, well from my experience when your child is in surgery time passes unusually slowly. I have found it pointless to try to read books. The only way to cope, I find, is to talk – so my advice would be take your partner or failing that a friend.