Preparing Your Child for Medical Experiences

Psychological preparation for medical experiences is designed to decrease anxiety and increase positive coping for children. Research shows that talking to your child about their medical experience before it happens greatly increases the likelihood that they will cope well presently and in the future.

Each child and medical experience is unique, so how children cope can vary from one admission or appointment to the next. Continuing to prepare your child for even routine medical experiences is important as their needs, fears and ability to cope positively can change over time. Preparation can be a way to maintain trust between you, your child and the medical team.

As child life specialists in the Cardiac Center, our job is to help infants, children, teenagers and families cope with the stress of illness and hospitalization by using evidence-based, developmentally-appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, preparation and education. In order to reduce fear, anxiety and pain, we will partner with you and your family to best prepare and support your child during medical experiences.

How you can prepare your child

We get lots of questions from caregivers wondering how to best prepare children for everything from an ECG to open heart surgery. Here at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), we are available as a resource, but preparation can start at home with you.

There are many ways to prepare children of all ages and developmental levels. It is important to prepare your child in a way they understand. Use honest, age-appropriate language when preparing your child to make it easier to understand new and unfamiliar concepts. Preparation can include information about what your child will see, feel, hear, taste and smell. For example, an X-ray is a “camera that takes pictures of the inside of your body without touching you.” 

Reading books about hospital experiences, playing with doctor kits, and visiting child-friendly websites (like CHOP's Kids Health Galaxy) will familiarize your child with common things they might see, what might happen, and who they might meet at the hospital. Additionally, comfort items from home can be a good way to make the hospital environment feel more familiar to your child. You can find a list of suggested books for children of all ages on the Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy website. These activities can help you learn more about your child’s understanding, stressors, misconceptions and much more. Allow opportunities for your child to ask questions and express feelings.

Additional information

For age-specific preparation resources, suggested reading materials, and more information about Child Life in the Cardiac Center, please visit our resources page or contact the Cardiac Center Child Life staff at CardiologyChildLife@email.chop.edu.


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