In sickness and in health

Spending time in hospital can be a very stressful time for both the children and their parents. We found out how to to make it easier all round

In sickness and in health

No matter what age you are, hospital can be a very scary place. Whether you’re there for a routine operation or have been taken ill, there’s something about being on a ward that fills us with dread, in spite of all of the best efforts of the medical staff.

With that in mind, we asked Dr. K.M. Abdul Manaf, specialist paediatrician at Zulekha Hospital, to help us allay some fears. Here are his top tips on how to prepare little ones for a hospital stay:

1 Be honest and speak to your child about why they need to go to hospital. Sit with them and tell them in simple words, depending on their level of understanding and age, what is expected to happen in hospital. For older children, tell them at least a week or two beforehand so that they have time to think of any questions or issues that might be relevant to them. For under-sixes this can be done a few days before. Encourage them to ask
any questions.

2 We can be tempted to sugarcoat or avoid some aspects of hospital procedures. For example blood tests or injections can be very stressful for the child and parent. However, they are necessary. It is better to tell your child about the “special cream and spray to take the pain of the needle away” than ignore this fact. If something is going to hurt, say so.

3 Always end the announcment in a fairytale manner, with the subject returning home healthy. This will reinforce their belief that they will be going home soon.

4 Allow time for hospital role-play for the younger children. Children use play to make sense of their world. Providing simple medical kits can be very powerful; they may bandage a teddy bear or listen to dolly’s heartbeat for example.

5 Familiarise your child with the hospital through a visit or look at the virtual tour and photographs on its website.

6 Plan with your child what they would like to take to hospital. Involve them in choosing games, favourite books, toys, DVDs, activities such as puzzles or colouring-in books, as well as pyjamas and comfortable clothes for their hospital stay.

7 Tell them that other children will also be at the hospital and that they might make new friends while there.

8 Reassure your child that you or other caregivers will be staying with them throughout and other family members will be visiting them often.

9 During the stay at the hospital it is important for the parent to take breaks. Do as much as you feel comfortable with in caring for your child. For example, helping to shower, feed, cuddle and play with your child on the ward, as well as going with them for medical procedures, tests or treatments. Feel free to speak to your child’s nurse about how much you want to be involved.

10 Be aware that when the child goes home there is likely to be a change in behaviour for a time. They may worry more about things in general and particularly about their health or about minor injuries. They may be more “clingy” or babyish. Eating and sleeping habits may change. They may be fearful in situations which remind them of hospital or of illness. All of these should pass in time. This requires extra love patience.
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