Preparing your Child for a Hospital Visit

Age-related guidelines

A child's personality, language development and ability to understand information affect his understanding of the hospital, a medical condition or a treatment or procedure. Remember, since children develop at different rates, these guidelines may not describe your child exactly.

Newborn to 2 years old
When your child is very young, concentrate on preparing yourself for the hospital. If parents feel at ease, their child is usually able to sense this and react in the same way.

2 to 3 years old
At this age, children don't understand time in the same way as older children and adults. Consider telling your child about his or her operation or procedure one or two days before going to the hospital.

3 to 6 years old
At these ages, children are beginning to learn about the days of the week and are developing a sense of time. It's hard for a child to understand why he or she needs an operation or procedure. Your child may worry that he has done something wrong. Reassure your child that the hospital stay is about having something fixed and is never a punishment. Consider telling your 3 or 4 year old child about an operation or procedure one to two days before going to the hospital; consider telling your 5 or 6 year old child three to five days ahead of time.

7 to 11 years old
At this age, a child is able to understand the reason for a hospital stay or procedure. In addition, children at these ages have developed a sense of time. You may want to tell your child about his operation or procedure a week before going to the hospital. This will give your child plenty of time to ask questions and to talk about any worries he may have about going to the hospital.

12 to adult years
At this age, it's best to include children in planning for the operation or procedure from the beginning. Encourage your child to ask questions and to talk about his worries about the hospital. Most children are struggling for independence from their parents while at the same time seeking their support. You may want to ask your child how you can help him through the hospital stay or procedure.

Next: The Day of Surgery