making hospital less scary for childrenA trip to the doctor can already be a traumatic experience for families with young children (for both the parents and the kids!), much less a visit to the hospital. During the early years of a child’s life, there are the regular check-ups and immunization visits at the pediatrician; later on you will likely switch to a general practitioner when your child is older. Still, going to the hospital for the first time can be a daunting experience.

As with any other new experience, your child may feel scared about a potentially scary encounter, because he just doesn’t know what to expect. And most hospital environments, being sterile and quiet, may not do much to alleviate their nerves.

Preparing your child

You can prepare your child for a trip to the hospital by explaining to him in advance what will happen when you are there. Describe to him who will attend to him, what they might do, how it might feel. By talking openly about the visit, your child will have the opportunity to ask questions, and share his fears with you.

Remember that a child’s perception is different from that of an adult’s. It is very likely that your child will have some misconceptions or misunderstandings about the whole situation, and talking about it will help you explain things to him appropriately. This also gives you the chance to guide him through creating some coping strategies for himself to manage his fears.

For toddlers or young children, simple picture books describing a trip to the hospital can be helpful. You can also give your child a medical toy set – allow him to pretend-play with you as a doctor or nurse, show them the procedures they will go through if possible (eg injection).

Older school-going children can be prepared up to a week in advance. This gives your child time to process the information, ask questions and prepare emotionally and mentally. Younger children may not have a clear concept of time, so you can mention the visit a few days in advance, and give more details on the day before.

You can talk about:

  • What the hospital/doctor’s room might look like
  • People he might see
  • What it might feel like, smell like, sound like
  • Feelings your child might experience
  • Ways in which your child can help the doctor, and what you will do to help your child if he’s scared
  • Where you will be throughout the various stages of the experience – sometimes you might be right next to him, sometimes you might have to leave him with the nurse for a while

Avoid frightening language or too many details that your child won’t be able to comprehend. And reassure him (if you know with certainty) that after seeing the doctor, it’ll be time to go back home.

Of course, remember to prepare your own heart for the trip. Find out what to expect once you are there, and what procedures you and your child need to go through. When in doubt, clarify with the doctor or check online for answers. Be prepared for your child’s possible reaction on the actual day itself – it would be wise to pack a few ‘distractions’ to be whipped out if necessary, such as a new sticker sheet, her favourite book or a treasured toy.

Do your best to remain calm, no matter how your child might feel or react or behave. Providing a supportive and soothing presence for your child will reassure him tremendously, and make the whole experience less stressful for everyone concerned

By Dorothea Chow