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Preparing Your Child for a Hospital Stay at UPMC Children's Harrisburg

Staying at the hospital or having surgery doesn't have to be a scary experience for your child. With a little preparation, your child will understand that his or her needs will be met. He or she may even discover that the hospital can be an interesting place!

  • Gather information. Know why your child needs a procedure, how the procedure may feel and how long it will last. Consider being with your child during the procedure.
  • Be honest and sensitive. Explain to your child why she needs the procedure and what she can expect to feel, see and hear. Be honest with your child about what may hurt and what will not hurt. Try to avoid creating undue concern for your child.
  • Encourage curiosity and exploration. Becoming familiar with our health care facility and understanding the equipment that will be used during treatment or diagnosis is very important to your child. Help your child learn about the purpose of the examination and the medical equipment that he will encounter.
  • Reassure your child. Make sure your child knows that visits to the hospital and doctor's office or clinic are not punishment, and they are not necessarily places where she will experience pain.
  • Use simple language. When describing a medical procedure, try to use words that do not have double meanings or are threatening. For tests that use contrast dye, for example, use the word "medicine" instead of "dye." Call a stretcher a "bed on wheels," and use the terms "numb" or "make sleepy" instead of "deaden."
  • Listen to your child's concerns. Let your child know that it is all right to ask questions, cry and talk about his feelings.
  • Give your child choices. Allowing your child to take a more active role in her procedure, such as deciding which finger gets stuck with a needle or whether she sits on the examining table or on a parent's lap for a shot, can help lessen her anxiety and pain.
  • Help your child manage pain. You can use many coping strategies to help reduce your child’s anxiety and perceptions of pain and discomfort. Teach him that deep, steady breathing can help him cope with pain. Let him squeeze your hand and say "ouch!" or "that hurt!" Distract your child with books, songs, blowing bubbles, video games or music to divert his attention from the anxiety and pain. Let him know that he can ask for a topical medicine that can help minimize the pain and discomfort of needle sticks.
  • Comfort your child. Touching is an important part of healing. If medical needs prevent you from holding or rocking your child, you may still stroke your child or hold her hand.
  • When appropriate, encourage play. Children learn about their world and how to cope with challenges by playing. Play gives children a sense of control and a way to work out and understand their feelings. Playing with puppets, painting pictures, telling stories and other such activities — before and after a procedure — are meaningful ways to teach children about their health care needs and experiences.

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