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A visit to hospital can be frightening for a person of any age, but especially for children. The following information will give you some ideas to help you and your child before, during and after their visit to The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH), and will help you know what to expect.
Tell your child honestly and truthfully why they need to come to hospital. If your child is under six years of age, tell your child a couple of days beforehand. If they are more than six years old, tell them a week or two beforehand. Telling your child before coming into
hospital gives them time to prepare by asking questions and talking with you and others. Use simple words your child will understand.
Be careful about using humour or making jokes about going to hospital with your child. Joking around with adults can lighten up a potentially stressful situation; however, in children, humour has not yet developed in the same way. Jokes in this situation may be confusing or
frightening for children.
The Child Life Therapy department runs a
pre-admission program. Through play, a child life therapist will help your child understand what they can expect when they come into hospital. They can also answer many of your own questions about the visit.
Child life therapists will show you the areas of the hospital that your child will visit during their stay, which will help to make the surroundings feel more familiar. They will show your child any dressings, plasters, splints, IV (intravenous) drips and other equipment they
may need before or after their surgery or procedure, and explain their purpose through play. Your child will also be prepared for having an anaesthetic (going to sleep) – again through play and demonstration.
Bookings are essential for attending a pre-admission program, and can be made from several weeks to several days before your child's admission to hospital.
You are encouraged to be with your child on the ward as much as possible during their hospital stay. Parents and regular caregivers are an invaluable member of their child's care team as they know their child best.
When your child is admitted to hospital, they will be placed under the care of a home team (your primary contacts responsible for the medical care of your child).
On the day of discharge, you will usually be expected to leave by 10am. Try to arrange the day before for someone to pick you up, and then you will just need to confirm on the morning that you are ready to go home.
It is not unusual for a child to show some behaviours that are different to normal when they leave hospital. For instance, they might be clingy, attention-seeking or have 'babyish' behaviours (e.g. sucking their thumb) that they had previously grown out of. A visit to hospital is a big
event in a child's life, even if it is only for a day procedure. Stick to your usual routines and give them some time, patience and understanding. Your child will soon return to their normal self.
Again, allow your child plenty of time to play being in hospital once they are home. They have more information and experience now, and may need to play out these experiences to make sense of and cope with them.
Brothers and sisters may also be clingy or show attention-seeking behaviours. Having their sibling in hospital has been different for them too, so allow time for their questions and try to involve them in events.
I have other children to look after and can't be with my
child in hospital the whole time. Is there any support available?
The RCH has volunteers who are available to help patients and families during their stay. To find out if a volunteer can support you, ask one of your child's nurses.
My child has food allergies. How can I make sure the staff
know about these?
Immediately upon arrival, notify staff of your child's allergies, intolerances and food preferences. This will be added to your child's electronic medical record and it will ensure that all catering, nursing, medical and support staff are aware.
Developed by The Royal Children's Child Life Therapy team. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed April 2019.
Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit