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Preparing Children to Visit Someone

When you have a loved one in the hospital it can be a difficult time for everyone in the family, especially children.

A black father and his teenage son both with masks on speaking to a male nurse

Often children will want to come to the hospital because they know their loved one is there and they want to see them. As long as visitors of certain ages are allowed in the hospital, it is typically okay to have children come and visit a loved one. If your child is properly prepared for the hospital visit, then you can help make visiting a positive experience for the child and yourself. If your loved one is in serious condition, please use your best judgment as you know your child best.

  • When preparing your child for a visit to the hospital, it’s important to do the preparing in a quiet/safe place such as being at home or a quiet room in the hospital. Try to make it free from distractions. Turn off the TV and cell phones and make sure there are not too many people in the room.
  • Have your children make a special “hospital bag” that they can put toys, movies, or activities in to help keep them busy while they are visiting.
  • You need to prepare your child for what they will see and hear when they come to the hospital. The older the child, the more details you may have to give them. It is okay to go into as many details as you think is appropriate. Take pictures of hospital room, the machines, and the loved one that is in the hospital. Explain to them in simple details what every machine is used for:
    • The computer on the wall is monitoring grandma’s heart.
    • The pole with the bag of water is helping to give grandma’s body a drink through a little tube in her hand. This tube can also help give grandma medicine.
    • There is a tube that is in grandma’s nose and that is to help give grandma food because she is not awake enough to eat right now.
    • There is a tube in grandma’s mouth and that is helping grandma to breath. The doctor is giving grandma some medicine that makes grandma really sleepy so her brain can rest. When her brain is resting, the doctor has this big machine to help grandma breath. The machine makes a little noise when it works. Sometimes it will beep. It’s okay when it beeps because the nurse and doctor are watching the computer to make sure everything is working well.
  • Make sure you leave the decision up to the child about if they want to visit or not. Some children want to visit and some of them don’t. Some children want to wait a few more days and then want to visit. It should be the child’s decision.
  • Explain to the child in appropriate language why the patient may not respond the way they usually do. Let them know that even though they may look different, it is still grandma/mommy on the inside. Remind them that they can talk to them, but they may/may not be able to talk back.
  • When you bring the child to the room, let them lead you. They may want to stay back and walk in slowly. Do not tell your child to go up to the bed and hold the person’s hand. Let your child know that they can come up and hold their hand if they want to or they can stay back farther. If your child decides to go into the room, have your child make a card ahead of time and then they can give it to their loved one. This can be a good conversation starter upon entering the room.
  • Keep the visit short per the child. If they feel comfortable staying, allow them to. If they want to leave sooner than expected, that’s okay. For some children it may be a lot to take in all at once, so be prepared that they may want to leave after a short time and then may want to come back in again shortly after.
  • After a child sees someone they love in the hospital, it may bring about some emotions. Acknowledge the child’s emotions and let them know that it is okay to feel this way. Let them know that it is okay to cry if they want to. Also let them know it’s okay to be happy. Don’t say to a child “Try to be brave and try not to cry.” Crying is a means of coping.

If you know that your loved one is going to look better in the next few days, we suggest you have the child wait to see them until they start looking better (especially if there are a lot of tubes, swelling, etc.). If you know that the loved one will not look better and may pass away, then you should prepare your child and ask them if they want to visit and say goodbye.

Child Life Can Help

If you are concerned about how to discuss any of this with your child, Child Life Specialists at HSHS St. Vincent Children’s Hospital can help. They are trained to teach children and families the skills it takes to cope with a hospitalization. Child Life Specialists can help children and families prepare for the experience by using medical play, age-appropriate explanations and comfort measures. If you are interested in speaking or meeting with a Child Life Specialist, call 920-433-8641 or notify your child’s doctor.