Preparing Your Child for an Inpatient Visit

Visiting a hospital for any reason can be stressful for children of all ages — especially when your child will be in the Hospital overnight for what's called an inpatient stay. These tips can help you prepare your child for his visit, so he feels more comfortable about his upcoming hospital stay.

  • Emphasize that the hospital stay is temporary.
  • Reassure your child that you will visit often and will stay overnight if this is the case.
  • Pack together for the hospital stay. Let your child choose his own pajamas to bring.
  • Point out similarities between the hospital and home such as regular meals, chances to play and having one's own bed.
  • Include your entire family in one of your 'pre-hospital' talks.
  • Borrow a library book that describes a hospital stay and read it with your child.
  • Ask about any tours or preparation programs that the hospital may offer. (e.g. Day Surgery Tour)

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

If your 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.

Our Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy staff is available to answer your questions 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.

Age-appropriate advice

How you talk with your child about her inpatient stay should depend on her age. The following information can help you understand what your child may be thinking about her upcoming visit and how you can ease her anxiety.

3 and younger

What your child is thinking: Your child's greatest concern is being away from you. Younger children, especially those under age 3, often think that going to the hospital is punishment for misbehavior.

How you can help: Stay with her as much as possible while she’s in the hospital. Let her know that she did nothing wrong. Explain in terms she can understand, why the hospital stay is necessary.

Ages 4 to 6

What your child is thinking: Children in this age group fear damage to their bodies. If your child will need anesthesia and you tell your child the doctor will put him to sleep, he may associate that with a pet, and think he is going to die.

How you can help: Be careful when explaining what will take place. While describing anesthesia, say the doctor will help your child take a nap for a few hours. When talking about surgery, use the word 'opening,' instead of  'cut.'

Ages 6 to 12

What your child is thinking: 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.

How you can help: Be open. Don't deny that there will be pain after an operation. Explain that although it will hurt for a while, your child will be made to feel as comfortable as possible.


What your child is thinking: Teenagers are often reluctant to ask questions so you may believe that they understand more than they actually do.

How you can help: Encourage your teenager to ask the doctors and nurses questions. Include your child in discussions about the care plan so she will feel more in control.

Questions we might ask: If your child is 18 or older and being admitted to the hospital, we will ask some standard questions about choosing a “lay caregiver” who would be willing to help with healthcare needs at home. In Pennsylvania, it is legally required that hospital staff ask this question. You are not required to choose a lay caregiver, and you can change your mind at any time.

Next Steps