Helping Kids Cope With a Hospital Stay

By Donna Cardillo, RN

There isn’t much that’s scarier than having to admit your child to the hospital. For the child, the process can be traumatic and overwhelming. But there are some steps you can take to make the process a little less stressful for the child, and the whole family in the process.

1. If the admission is planned and time permits, arrange a tour of the pediatric unit with your child so he or she can meet some of the staff, see the rooms and so on. Some hospitals even have great playrooms for hospitalized kids. This way, when the child is admitted, some things will seem familiar. Contact the admitting office about this.

2. Inquire if the facility has a child life specialist on staff. This is an individual (usually a nurse or other professional) who specializes in working with children who are hospitalized and their families to minimize stress and confusion. They offer support, guidance and information before and during the hospital stay. Ask to speak to this person if one exists. If not, ask to speak to the nurse manager or one of the staff nurses on the pediatric unit beforehand or during your child’s stay for suggestions on how to make the hospital stay as comfortable for your child as possible.

3. Bring some of your child’s world into the hospital room. Check beforehand about unit polices, but you may be able to bring in personal photos, posters for the wall, cards, a favorite pillow or slippers, stuffed animal, etc.

4. Include the child in discussions and decision-making as much as possible in plain and age-appropriate language. Encourage the child to ask questions and talk about his or her feelings. Let him/her know it is okay to be scared.

5. Bring activities such as coloring or puzzle books, magazines, crafts or a deck of cards. It may not be advisable to bring expensive electronic devices such as DVD players, electronic games and computers, but check with the nurse or child life specialist.

6. For older children, provide a journal and encourage them to record their feelings, thoughts and experiences.

7. Many hospitals allow parents or guardians to sleep overnight in the child’s room in some circumstances. Inquire about this if it is something you might want to do. The nurse can advise you on this.

8. Read books to younger children about being in the hospital. These are available in bookstores and libraries. They may even be available in the hospital gift shop. Discuss how the children in the story feel and how they are coping.

Every child and family, as well as every situation, is different. But with a little thought, planning and effort you can minimize the trauma and make your child’s stay in the hospital as calm and comfortable as possible.

Donna Cardillo, RN travels the world helping nurses to be happy in their careers and to reach their full potential. She is fiercely passionate about nursing and about life in general. You may know Donna as “Dear Donna” at Nursing Spectrum and NurseWeek magazines where she writes a regular column and doles out daily online career advice at She is also an “Expert” Blogger at – the first and only nurse blogging there! Donna is author of 3 books: Your First Year as a Nurse, The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, and a Daybook for Beginning Nurses.  She has received numerous awards and recognitions but is most proud of being named a Diva in Nursing by the Institute for Nursing in NJ for outstanding achievements and excellence in practice. Donna has been referred to as the Ann Landers and the Dr. Phil of the nursing profession. Regardless of who she’s compared to, there’s no denying that she has her own unique style, indomitable spirit, and uproarious sense of humor.

Author Profile

The Editorial Team at Lake Oconee Health is made up of skilled health and wellness writers and experts, led by Daniel Casciato who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We aim to provide our readers with valuable insights and guidance to help them lead healthier and happier lives.