Preparing Your Child for Their Stay

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.

Talk with a representative.

Helpful books

Reading books together about going to the doctor or hospital may help your child feel more comfortable. The children’s book section of many bookstores has picture or storybooks about illness and health care experiences. Here are some of our favorites:


A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital book cover

A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital

By: Deborah Hautzig, Dan Elliott and Joseph Mathieu
Age group: 2 to 6 years old
Summary: Grover learns that he needs an operation. He goes on a hospital tour with his mother and familiar Sesame Street friends to explore the hospital environment.


Going to the Hospital by Mr. Rogers book cover

Going to the Hospital

By: Fred Rogers
Age group: 3 to 8 years old
Summary: This book uses real-life pictures of children, parents, and hospital staff. It describes the different parts of a hospital stay.


Franklin Goes to the Hospital book cover

Franklin Goes to the Hospital

By: Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark
Age group: 3 to 7 years old
Summary: Franklin’s shell has cracked and he needs to be a brave turtle when it’s time to go to the hospital.


Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the Hospital book cover

Tubes in My Ears: My Trip to the Hospital

By: Virginia Dooley and Miriam Katin
Age group: 6 to 10 years old
Summary: Luke undergoes surgery for placement of ear tubes. Children about to undergo any kind of surgery will enjoy learning from Luke as he retells his story.

The Moon Balloon: A Journey of Hope and Discovery for Children and Families book cover

The Moon Balloon: A Journey of Hope and Discovery for Children and Families

By: Joan Drescher
Age group: 7 to 12 years old
Summary: This interactive book gives children the opportunity to create their own stories of hope and discovery about their health care experience.


Jessica's X-Ray: Includes Actual X-Rays! book cover

Jessica’s X-Ray: Includes Actual X-Rays!

By: Pat Zonta and Clive Dobson
Age group: 6 to 10 years old
Summary: When Jessica, 6, falls and breaks her arm, the doctor orders X-rays. At first she's scared, but a reassuring technician explains how everything works.


Your Child in the Hospital: A Practical Guide for Parents book cover

Your Child in the Hospital: A Practical Guide for Parents

By: Nancy Keene and Rachel Prentice
Age group: Adults
Summary: This book helps parents prepare a child physically and emotionally for a hospital experience including an outpatient test or overnight stay.


Clifford Visits the Hospital book cover

Clifford Visits the Hospital

By: Norman Bridwell
Age group: 2 to 7 years old
Summary: This book helps parents prepare children who are apprehensive about an upcoming hospital experience.


Going to the Hospital by Anne Civardi book cover

Going to the Hospital

By: Anne Civardi, Michelle Bates, and Stephen Cartwright
Age group: 3 to 7 years old
Summary: This book is about a little boy who stays in the hospital overnight following an ear operation.