Preparing for Hospitalization and Medical Procedures

Hospitalization, and medical procedures can be very stressful for children of all ages. Preparing children ahead of time for the things they may experience in the hospital will reduce much of their anxiety and will help them cope and trust you and the people they meet in the hospital.

Tips for preparing your child at any age

  • If your child is under the age of 5, you should talk to him or her a day or two before the experience. Older children should have a few days to a week to get information and ask questions.
  • Be honest. If you do not know the answer, tell your child you do not know, but you will find out.
  • Use words your child will understand.
  • Encourage your child to discuss feelings and ask questions about the upcoming experience.
  • Be careful not to force a discussion if your child does not seem ready.
  • Have your child pack a suitcase with the things he or she wants in the hospital. Your child may be able to wear his or her own pajamas to sleep in. Some areas may require a child to wear hospital pajamas.
  • Ask about any tours or preparation programs such as day surgery tours the Hospital may provide.

It is not uncommon to see changes in your child's behavior before, during or after hospitalization. Children’s responses to hospitalization and medical procedures will differ, depending on their age, the procedures they are having done and their past experiences.

Child life staff offer age-appropriate preparation for medical procedures

Child life staff are available in all inpatient and most outpatient areas to prepare your child prior to a medical procedure. Staff use age-appropriate language and teaching materials, including dolls, photo books and real medical equipment. Contact your child life specialist, or call 215-590-2001, for more information about having your child prepared by a child life specialist.

Day surgery tours

Child life staff offer pre-operative preparation prior to your child's day surgery experience. Day surgery tours include age-appropriate education and a tour of the surgical areas. To schedule a tour for your child, please contact the day surgery child life specialist at 215-590-3836.

If you are unable to come to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for a tour prior to the day of surgery, visit www.kidshealthgalaxy.com, our website for kids, to view an animated pre-operative tour.

Tips for preparing  your child by age

Infant

  • Bring your child's favorite toy, blanket or stuffed animal.
  • Prepare yourself — if you are prepared, you will be more relaxed around your infant.
  • Bring music that helps relax your baby.
  • Keep routines as normal as possible.

Toddler

  • Talk with your toddler one to two days before his or her healthcare experience.
  • Use simple words that your child will understand.
  • Reassure your child that you will be with him or her whenever possible.
  • Allow your child to choose his or her favorite things to bring to the hospital.
  • Read books about going to the hospital.
  • Encourage your child to use play medical kits and dolls to act out his or her understanding of the experience.

Preschool

  • Talk with your preschooler three to four days before his or her healthcare experience.
  • Use simple words without too many details.
  • Help your preschooler understand that he or she did not do anything to cause the hospitalization, procedure or surgery.
  • Encourage your preschooler to talk about his or her feelings.
  • Give your preschooler the opportunity to ask questions.
  • Read books with pictures of medical equipment.
  • Use play medical kits to allow expression of feelings.

School-age

  • Prepare your school-age child one to two weeks ahead of time.
  • Let your child know that you will answer any of his or her questions.
  • Talk about your child's fears and questions openly and honestly.
  • Help your child understand exactly why he or she needs a certain procedure or to be hospitalized.
  • Allow your child to pack his own suitcase.

Adolescent

  • Include your adolescent in any discussions and decisions about his or her healthcare experience.
  • Encourage your adolescent to ask questions about hospital care, procedures and schedules.
  • Allow and support your adolescent's privacy.

Contact us

The Child Life staff is available to help answer any questions you may have about helping your child prepare for hospitalization or surgery. Please call 215-590-2001 or e-mail childlife@email.chop.edu for more information.