Tips To Ease The Stress Of A Hospital Visit
Like parents everywhere, you are probably uncertain about the best ways to prepare your child. The job is not as daunting as you may think. Ohio's Akron Children's Hospital's Child Life staff says the key is in imparting information at your child's level of understanding, correcting misconceptions and dispelling fears.
"Depending on your child's age and developmental level, you need to help her understand the physical problem that requires the surgery and become familiar with the hospital and some of the procedures she will undergo," says Alisa Mills, a child life specialist at Akron Children's Hospital. "Children of all ages cope much better if they have some concrete idea of what is going to happen and why surgery is necessary. But to do that, you need to prepare yourself first, and correct any misconceptions of your own."
The horror stories you heard from grandparents and parents about traumatic parent-child separations and very limited hospital visiting hours belong to days gone by. Hospitals have changed enormously. For example, most surgeries performed on children are now "same-day" procedures that don't require overnight or prolonged stays. Most hospitals allow at least one parent to stay beside the child at all times except in the operating room.
Mills said understanding what scares your child is the first step to easing the discomfort. She says children often share common fears about medical procedures and exams, including:
Separation: Children worry about being alone and away from their parents. The fear of separation is most common in children under age 7, but it may be frightening to older children as well.
Pain: Children may worry that a part of the examination or medical procedure will hurt. They especially fear they may need an injection, particularly children ages 6 through 12.
The doctor: Unfortunately, one of a child's concerns may be the doctor's manner. A child may misinterpret qualities such as speed, efficiency or a detached attitude, and read into them sternness, dislike or rejection.
The unknown: Apprehensive about the unknown, children also worry that their problem may be much worse than their parents are telling them. Some who have simple problems suspect they may need surgery or hospitalization. Some who are ill worry they may die. Mills said how you handle those fears depends on your child's age and developmental level.
"A lot of people think there is nothing you can do to help prepare your infant for surgery, but there is," says Mills. "Mostly, we try to prepare the parents of infants and help them understand what to expect." She recommends parents desensitize their infant to other people by letting friends and family hold the baby.
Preparing toddlers and pre-schoolers
Toddlers and pre-schoolers have short attention spans, so preparation should be geared toward their developmental level and shouldn't come too far in advance of the surgery. "Toddlers can only look a couple of days into the future," says Mills. "So it is best to wait until one or two days before the surgery to explain."
Mills recommends thinking about it from your child's point of view: a strange place, odd-looking equipment, unusual noises, different smells, sleeping in a new bed, unable to go home, cared for by strangers.
Preparing a school-age child
Mills advises active participation by school-age children in preparation for health care procedures and offers the following guidelines:
Preparing an adolescent
Surgery or medical treatment may evoke many fears in adolescents that go well beyond those of younger children. They may fear pain and disfigurement, but also fear losing control.