Hospital Orientation

It's natural to want children to be happy. And it's natural to want to protect them from situations that make them sad, or angry, or frustrated. Because hospitalization has the potential to evoke many negative emotions in children, when seven year old Jeffrey becomes a patient, it's natural to want to protect him from the truth. Natural, but not in his best interests if he is to be successful in this new role. And not to his advantage if he is to continue to trust the most important people in his life.

Here are some "reassurances" that parents often give their children; reassurances that backfire, that should be avoided, and that should be replaced instead with the truth and a hug:

  • "We're only going to the toy store.",

  • (when hospitalization is the agenda).
  • "I'll be back as soon as I go to the bathroom.",

  • (when you plan to go home and return the next day).
  • "The shot won't hurt you, don't worry.",

  • (when an injection is necessary).
  • "We'll get to go home as soon as you drink that carton of milk."

  • (when the plan is for four more days of hospitalization).
Reassurances like these are common, yet as unfortunate as they are understandable. Part of growing up is learning how to deal with difficulty. It's learning how to cope with frustration, pain, and loss. As parents, we can teach our children effective repertoires for handling tough times. And we can do so with honesty and love. Here are some alternative ways of dealing with separation, pain and treatment regimens: 
  • "Jeffrey, we need to go to the hospital so that you can get better. Remember when we visited Aunt Mary? We'll be staying in a different part of the hospital, a part just for children. And guess what...there's a special room where children get to play."
  • "I need to go home, Amy, but I'll be back after dinner. Dinner comes in the hospital right after 'Mr.Roger's Neighborhood'. Look, I brought your very favorite blanket to keep you company while I'm gone."
  • "It's time for that special medicine, Jeffrey...the kind that you can only get through a needle. Isn't it great that the nurse used that special cream to make your skin go to sleep? Now you'll only feel it a little bit."
  • "You've had a tough time drinking since your operation, haven't you, Amy? Look what the nurse brought us...two tiny cups. We can have a tea party, and each of us can drink two cupfuls of juice. It will be easy because they're so little! What kind would you like?"
Joan Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468

Last updated: November 14, 2004