Summary

  • When talking to your child about going to hospital, be honest and truthful about what will happen.
  • Use simple words they are familiar with, not medical words.
  • Pack some of their favourite things, such as a teddy and family photos.
  • Take them for a visit to the hospital before they have to go in for their surgery or procedure to get them familiar with the surroundings.

Having to go to hospital for treatment such as surgery or a procedure can be daunting for anyone. Preparing your child with the right level of information at the right time will help ease their anxiety.

Talking with your child about hospitals

When talking with your child about an upcoming hospital stay, be honest and truthful. Use neutral, unemotional language and try to avoid specific medical terms. During the conversation, stop and check to make sure your child understands what you are saying.

Depending on the age of your child, it often helps to use play to get them used to the idea of hospital. This may include wrapping a teddy in bandages and putting them to bed, or feeding them their medicine.

Read your child age-appropriate books about going to hospital. There are plenty of picture books available from local libraries that deal with trips to hospital. Your hospital might also be able to lend you videos or other audiovisual tools about hospital stays for children. 

If possible, have your child talk to another child who has been in hospital and had a good experience.

What to tell your child about hospital

You do not need to give specifics about their upcoming medical procedure – keep it general. Talk through any feelings they might have, encourage questions and answer them truthfully, using simple and familiar language.

When to speak with your child about hospital

The best time to speak with your child about going into hospital will depend on their age: 
  • toddlers – talk with them just prior to going to hospital because they may not yet understand the concept of time.
  • preschool-aged children – talk with them one to two days before their admission to give them time to enjoy playing at being in hospital.
  • school-aged children – talk with them one week before the hospital visit. They will understand more than toddlers and pre-schoolers and might need some time to develop coping strategies.
  • teenagers – talk with them several weeks before the visit, so they can process the information, talk it over and ask questions.

What to bring to hospital

What your child packs for hospital will depend on their age, but consider bringing:
  • a favourite doll, blanket, teddy or other comfort item
  • a favourite activity, or maybe a new one especially for hospital (for example, a book or game)
  • pyjamas 
  • toothbrush 
  • hairbrush or comb photos of family members and pets.

Visit the hospital beforehand

Ask the hospital staff if you can have a formal tour of the hospital. If not, take your child and walk around yourselves. You can help your child get used to the hospital by eating in the cafe or spending some time walking around the public areas. Children’s hospitals are usually designed to be visually appealing to kids.

When a family member has to go to hospital

You may have to prepare your child for your own hospital stay and they may have preconceived ideas about what it means for someone to have to go to hospital, if they have never experienced it themselves. Be honest and upfront with them using simple but positive language. Reassure them that you are going to hospital so you can feel better. 

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Your surgeon

More information

Browse hospitals, surgery and procedures topics

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Hospitals explained

Preparing for hospital or surgery

Managing a hospital stay

Recovery and discharge

Older people in hospital

Content Partner

This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Department of Health and Human Services

Last updated: October 2015

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