University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

Talking to your child about their stay in hospital

Before your child comes in for an operation or procedure, there are some things you may want to consider when talking to them about their visit:

  • When you tell your child that they are coming into hospital for a test or procedure, let them know that you think this is the best thing to do. Children can usually sense how you feel, so it is important to stay positive while discussing things with your child, as they will pick up on your anxiety. 
  • Choose a quiet time to talk to your child and use a calm and relaxed tone. Ask what your child knows or thinks about hospitals. Start with the issues your child thinks are the most important.
  • Use honest and simple explanations for what will be happening to your child. It is also important to mention any scars they may have after their procedure and if any of the tests may hurt; any which include a needle for example.
  • Use words and pictures that your child is familiar with. Books, leaflets and videos are available to borrow from the ward.
  • Try not to make any promises you can't keep, for example, saying that things won't hurt or that your child won't have any blood tests. Use words your child will understand such as 'uncomfortable' or 'scratch'.
  • Tell your child about how he or she will feel before, during and after their procedure. For example, you may to want to explain to your child that they will not see, hear or feel anything during the operation as they will be asleep. Try and avoid the phrase 'put to sleep' when explaining this.
  • Tell your child about any plans for an overnight stay at the hospital and let your child know that you will be sleeping there with them. Encourage your child to bring their favourite teddy or toy with them to make them feel more relaxed.
  • Build your child's confidence by involving them in organising and packing a few things for their hospital stay. Let them know that family and friends will be allowed to visit.
  • Let your child know that they can ask doctors and nurses questions if they want to when they arrive. If they are too scared to ask questions, let them know that you will do that for them.
  • When you have explained what will be happening, ask your child some questions so that you know they have understood what you have told them. It is important to make sure that your child understands what will be happening to them on the day.
  • Let your child know that is ok to feel many different things before, during and after their procedure and about their stay in hospital. They might feel worried, scared or curious about what will be happening to them.
  • If your child has any brothers or sisters, it is important to involve them in your child's stay in hospital. They may have their own questions and worries about what is happening to their sibling.
  • Encouraging your child to play with hospital related toys and activities once they are there; it is also a good way of taking their mind off things and helps them to relax into their surroundings.
  • There are many hospital related toys and books that you may want your child to become acquainted with before they come in, so that hospitals and doctors do not seem quite so scary. Please ask our play specialists about popular toys and books that are currently available that you might want to play with or look at with your child before you come in.