There’s so much advice out there for when kids are admitted to hospital for the first time. There are social stories, guides and tips available to address the unknowns and reassure your child that all will be well.
Unfortunately, there are not quite as many resources out there to support kids when their parent, carer or grandparent is the one being admitted to hospital. I found this out while preparing our kids for consecutive hospital admissions for my husband and myself, a couple of weeks back.
Even though we were only heading in for day procedures, I still wanted to find ways to prepare our kids for what was to come. Our two eldest kids share autism and anxiety diagnoses and our youngest, 8, was naturally worried as well. The prospect of being apart from us for a few days, while we were undergoing procedures in hospital, was a big deal for them.
Hence my desire to prepare them, to give them the support and reassurance they needed to get through our medical week from hell. Since there are little resources out there on this particular situation, I’ve decided to create my own. Here are 5 ways to prepare a child when a parent is admitted to hospital.
5 Ways to Prepare a Child When a Parent is Admitted to Hospital
Be honest about the hospital admission
Don’t hide your upcoming hospitalisation from your child. Be honest and let them know what is going on. You may feel like you are protecting them by withholding this information but you’re not. Explaining what is going to happen in age-approriate terms before your admission will help them:
- understand your recovery time post-surgery and what that will mean for them (you may not be able to drive or play with them as normal);
- prepare them for any difference in your appearance post-surgery (plaster casts, dressing, scars, etc.) which will make your return home easier and less confronting;
- normalise hospitalisation and address their fears about medical procedures.
It’s understandable to not want to worry your kids unnecessarily. But, it’s important to be honest about your procedure so they can better understand what’s going to happen and be prepared for your recovery.
Ensure your kids are looked after by people they trust
In many cases, your partner may be able to continue looking after your kids as normal, minimising upset and disruption to routine while you’re in hospital. However, for single parents or those whose partners work shifts or unscheduled hours, you may have to ask for your kids to be cared for during your hospital admission.
In our case, both of us underwent procedures on consecutive days so we felt it was easier for our kids to stay with their grandparents for that period, instead of being moved from place to place. If you do need to ask for help with your kids, try to get people your children trust to look after them. Family and close friends are your best bet but sometimes this support is not readily availble.
If you lack close support networks, it’s a good idea to get your kids used to a regular babysitter or carer prior to your admission. This will make things easier when you’re in hospital and provide a safe place for your kids during a worrying time.
Maintain open communication with your child
Communication and reassurance are really important to kids, particularly when they are worried about a parent in hospital. Ensure you have a plan for communicating with your kids while you’re in hospital. Even if you can’t physically call them or talk to them, get someone else to give them regular updates on how you’re going. This will help your kids manage their anxiety, encourage them to ask questions and reassure them about your progress.
Our two older kids (13 & 14 years old) were finally given mobile phones just before our admissions. Having a personal way to contact us, through calls and text, was a gamechanger for our kids. They felt in control of how and when they contacted us. They could share how they were feeling whenever they liked and it helped manage their stress and anxiety in a new and very effective way.
However old your kids are, make sure you have a way to contact them while you are in hospital. It will make the world of difference and go a long way to reassuring them and helping them manage their own stress and anxiety about being away from you.
Manage your child’s expectations
There will always be a period of recovery following a hospital admission and it’s crucial you talk to your kids about this beforehand. Depending on your procedure, you may not be able to drive for a period of time post-surgery. You may not be as mobile for a while. You may need to rest and recover from anaesthetic or undertake intense therapy as part of your recovery.
Talk to your child beforehand and let them know what this might mean for them. If your procedure will prevent you from undertaking normal activities for a while, it’s best to be clear on this from the start so you can manage your child’s expectations. If you need to get someone else to take them to therapies or appointments, let them know. Being honest about the recovery process will help everyone post-surgery, especially you, as you rest and recover.
Focus on the positives and on maintaining routine
It helps to concentrate on the positives when you prepare a child for their parent’s hospital admission. It can be a scary time for everyone so it makes sense to focus on the things they can look forward to, to minimise their natural stress and anxiety.
In our case, our hospital procedures were in the school holidays, so we talked to our kids about their stay with their grandparents in terms of a little holiday. They had trips to the park, special breakfasts and morning teas and got to spend quality time with their Nan and Pa. Talking about these events in the lead up to our hospital stays helped them identify the positives and focus less on their own worries about us.
Even with this approach, your child may still be very anxious about your hospital admission. This anxiety can be exacerbated by being cared for by others, staying in a different place and having their routine disrupted. Where possible, try to maintain established routines during your admission and recovery. Make to-do lists for friends and family, ask for help when needed and share your visual routines and calendars, to make the change less jarring for your child.
If you want to learn more, check out the video below, where I go through these steps in more detail:
How would you prepare your child if you were admitted to hospital?
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