For Patients and Visitors

Preparing Your Child for a Hospital Experience

Healthcare experiences, including hospitalization and medical procedures, can be very stressful for children of all ages. Preparing children ahead of time for the things they may experience during their healthcare visit will reduce much of their anxiety, as well as help them cope.

Providing your child with honest, accurate information will help to alleviate many of his/her fears and fantasies about what will happen. Talk with your child about the upcoming event. Give your child a chance to tell you how he/she is feeling and ask questions. Your child may be worrying about something that will not happen. Being honest with your child will help him/her trust you and the people he/she will meet at the doctor's office or hospital.

Tips to help you prepare your child

The more a child knows in advance about what to expect of any healthcare situation, the more comfortable he or she will be.

If your child is being admitted to the Hospital, the following tips may be helpful in addition to those above.

If your child is having surgery, please visit our Surgery Guide for more information about how to prepare your child for a surgical experience.

If you child has special needs and is scheduled for sedation or a general hospital visit, please visit the Sedation Unit website for information on how to prepare your child and what you can bring to your child's visit.

The Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy department staff is available to help answer any questions you may have about helping your child prepare for hospitalization or surgery. A child life specialist can explain what will happen, and why, in terms your child will understand. This kind of preparation can be good for you and your child, as well as for brothers and sisters. Please call 215-590-2001 or email for more information.

Looking at hospitalization through a child's eyes

Younger than age 3

Your child's greatest concern is being away from you. Being with your child as much as possible during the hospital stay will make your child feel more secure. Younger children, especially those under age 3, often think that going to the hospital is a punishment for misbehavior. Emphasize that this is not the case. Encourage your child to express fears and concerns. Explain, in a way that the child can understand, why the hospital stay is necessary.

Ages 4 to 6

Children in this age group fear damage to their bodies. Be careful when explaining what will take place. Avoid phrases that may have different meanings to a child. For example, your child may associate being put to sleep (when you explain surgical anesthesia) with a pet and think that he or she will die. Instead, say: The doctors will help you take a nap for a few hours, or another appropriate phrase. When talking about surgery say, make an 'opening,' instead of 'cut.'

Ages 6 to 12

Children older than 6 will worry about losing control as well as damage to their bodies. Your child may also worry about doing or saying embarrassing things while under anesthesia. Be open. Don't deny that there will be pain after an operation, if this is the case. Explain that although it will hurt for a while, he or she will be made to feel as comfortable as possible.


Teenagers are often reluctant to ask questions, leading you to believe that they understand more than they actually do. Encourage your teenager to ask the doctors and nurses questions about his or her condition. Include your child in discussions about the care plan for an increased feeling of control.

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Visit Kids Health Galaxy, our kids Web site, to help prepare your child for a visit to the hospital.
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