beth israel deaconess medical center a harvard medical school teaching hospital

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Children's Guide

Talking to Children about Hospitalization and Considerations for Visiting


Discussing Your Condition

  • Give your children age appropriate information about your medical illness and reason for hospitalization.
  • Explain the plan and how it will affect their lives - Who will take care of them while you are in the hospital? How long will you be separated?

Preparing for a Visit

  • If a child expresses interest in visiting the hospital, first ask the nurse if there are any restrictions to visitation on the unit.
  • Prepare the child for what they will see including the machines, monitors, IV poles, bandages, sounds, smells, and the number of patients in a room. Also describe how their loved one will look including pallor, hair, all aspects of appearance, confusion or fatigue, whether the parent can talk or ambulate, if the parent is in pain, and what is helping with the pain.
  • It can be helpful to take a photograph of the patient and the room to show the child prior to visiting. The child will need preparation to see a parent whose appearance is dramatically altered.

The Visit

  • Bring an additional supportive adult to the visit who can keep the child occupied elsewhere in the hospital if the child tires of the hospital room, or if the child has a difficult time.
  • Keep the visit brief. Let the child know the visit was meaningful to the parent, even if there was not a lot of interaction.
  • If the child does not want to visit, explore their reasons - Fear of how parent will look, fear of the hospital setting? Fear of what might happen? Do not force the child if they do not want to go.
  • If a child does not want to visit or if there are restrictions to visiting, consider alternatives such as phone calls, video, email, photo communication. For younger children, making drawings or writing a note and receiving feedback about how much the parent liked it often can feel gratifying to them.
  • Visits should be postponed or avoided if the parent is temporarily agitated or unable to recognize the child. If the parent is terminally ill, you should make it possible for the child to go for a last visit. Encourage them to talk to their parent and /or hold their hand even if the parent is unconscious.
  • After each visit, talk to the child about how they felt at the hospital - What surprised them? What made them afraid, if anything? This helps to plan for a next visit or for the parent's return home from the hospital.

Resources

  • Social workers, nurses and staff are available to assist in discussing parent's illness with children and helping them with their fears and concerns.

Contact Information

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue, Boston, MA 02215
Main Switchboard: 617-667-7000
Find a Doctor: 800-667-5356
Directions by Phone: 617-667-3000
TDD (for hearing impaired): 800-439-0183