Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy

Children’s Needs and Helping Kids Cope

Children have different needs as they grow and develop. Knowing the behaviors that are typical for your child at various ages makes it easier for you to address them. It’s also important for you to know how the stress of illness and hospitalization affect your child’s feelings and behaviors.

The Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy Department recognizes the impact that illness, injury, disability and hospitalization have on human growth and development. Our child life specialists, child life assistants, teachers and creative arts therapists minimize this impact on patients and families by:

Your Child's Changing Needs

This information about infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school-age children and adolescents shows you what to expect and provides tips for making the healthcare experience easier for your child.

For more detailed suggestions, use the following links:

Infant (birth-1 year)

Infancy is an exciting time for both the child and the family. Infants are able to recognize familiar objects, situations and faces. They will begin to show an interest in and react to their surroundings. Infants learn quickly that crying brings the parent or caregiver to their side, and they seek interaction with other people.

Common fears for infants can include separation from their primary caregivers; stranger anxiety; pain; parental anxiety, which is passed on to the infant; and anxiety due to either a lack of stimulation or over stimulation. These fears can be increased during a hospital or healthcare experience.

Toddler (1-3 years)

Toddlers begin to actively explore their surroundings in earnest. They seek adult companionship and begin to learn the consequences of their actions. Toddlers assert their independence, recognize ownership ("mine") and protest and say "No" even when they are compliant and cheerful. Toddlers learn about things by doing, and will express their frustration if routines are not followed.

Common fears for toddlers can include separation from their parents or primary caregivers, loss of physical and emotional control; pain, and needles. These fears can be increased during a hospital or healthcare experience.

Preschool (3-5 years)

Preschoolers love to participate in simple games, and are physically quite active and very independent. They tend to misunderstand words they hear, so misconceptions are common. Preschoolers have a limited ability to distinguish fantasy from reality and so may believe, for example, that cartoon characters are real. The ability to think and to learn develops rapidly during this time.

Preschoolers commonly fear the unknown, body mutilation, loss of body function, pain, needles, and that hospitalization or a medical procedure is a punishment. These fears can be increased during a hospital or healthcare experience.

School-age (6-11 years)

School-aged children relate well with their peers, like to compete, and are more critical of themselves than younger children. They are able to reason, develop cause and effect concepts, and think logically. School-age children can classify and organize facts, and have an increased awareness of their own body function.

School-age children commonly fear body mutilation, loss of body function, loss of control, pain, and death. These fears can be increased during a hospital or healthcare experience.

Adolescent (12+ years)

Adolescents are mainly concerned with peer acceptance and body image. Changes in their body and sexuality are issues of great importance. Adolescents are self-centered, and believe in their own unlimited powers. "It can't happen to me" is a common theme. Rebellion against authority is another marker of being a teenager.

Common concerns of adolescents include body mutilation, loss of body function, loss of control, loss of independence and invasion of privacy. These concerns can be increased during a hospital or healthcare experience.

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