Parents often want to know about the appropriate time and timing to talk to their child about surgeries, procedures, and inpatient stays. Important considerations are related to the child’s personality, comprehension, maturity, and language development. Children might already be afraid or worried about going to a doctor’s office or hospital simply based on previous experience/trauma. Here are some guidelines that may help you as you navigate through this process:
Birth to Age 2
If a hospital stay is imminent, the best thing you can do for your child is to prepare and take care of yourself. When you can keep fear and anxiety to a minimum, your child will be able to sense this and they will be calmer as well.
Simple language is all that is needed at this age. Sometimes explaining with too many words will confuse the child. Keep things simple and, when possible, incorporate doctor visits or hospital stays into the child’s play activities to make the actual day more normal and acceptable.
Despite your child’s rapid development and learning, it is likely still difficult for them to understand their medical needs as well as the need to have an operation or procedure that requires a hospital stay. They will benefit from hearing that this is not something that they did to cause the stay and that it is not a punishment, but it should be framed with short, simple sentences that something inside them is simply getting fixed to make their life better. Try to give a few days of notice prior to the event so that they have time to process and ask any questions about what’s coming. Again, try to incorporate play into this stage as well.
There can be a wide range of development and awareness in this age group. You will need to act according to your child’s age and development. Giving about a week’s notice for an upcoming procedure would be more helpful here and allow space for them to ask you (or their doctor) questions about what is going to happen and what to expect.
Not only is it important to include your child in the very beginning in the discussions about what is to come, but it is also important to take on the role of a listener. By now, your child likely has some opinions about what they might want or need at the hospital to help make the event more comfortable. Encourage them to give feedback and to ask questions to the doctor directly if they have any. They also want and need your support throughout this process. It might also benefit the child to meet up with other kids his/her age to gain more insight and support from someone who has already been through something similar