What To Do When Your Child Is Hospitalized?

When your child becomes hospitalized, your needs and the needs of other family members can easily get overlooked and pushed aside. It is important to recognize the needs and concerns of your family, as well as your own needs during this critical period when one of your children is hospitalized.

As a parent, you may experience a multitude of feelings regarding your child's hospitalization – fear, helplessness, confusion, anger and worry.

A special group of health care professionals, called Child Life Specialists, understands these feelings and would like to provide support to you and your family during this critical time. This information was developed by the Child Life Program at Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital to help parents of hospitalized children better understand and deal with different questions, concerns and issues regarding the care of your hospitalized and non-hospitalized children.

Communicating with Your Child's Healthcare Professionals
Most healthcare professionals feel that parents are an invaluable source of information regarding the hospitalized child. Parents are experts on their children, and can therefore aid in assessing, observing and understanding the child's well-being and daily needs. As a parent, it is your right to insist that healthcare professionals treat you as a partner in the decision-making process and treatment planning regarding your hospitalized child.

Parents are welcome to help with any part of their child's care. Healthcare professionals encourage parents to become actively involved in the routine care of the child (i.e. bathing, changing diapers, feeding, etc.). Nursing staff will be happy to assist parents in getting involved with the child's daily care needs.

In order to become an advocate for your hospitalized child, it is important to develop a trusting relationship with the healthcare providers who are treating your child during his/her hospital stay. As an advocate for your child, parents have the right to ask questions about medical procedures and clarify any terms that may be confusing regarding your child's medical treatment. The best way to develop a good relationship with healthcare providers is to express your ideas, concerns and opinions regarding your child's treatment.

It is also important for you as a parent to become as knowledgeable as possible about your child's illness or disability in order to better understand your child's medical treatment. Parents have the right to ask healthcare professionals for resources in understanding their child's illness or disability. Parents also have the right to ask to meet with healthcare professionals to discuss concerns and questions regarding your child's care. Most healthcare professionals believe that the parents are a vital part of the child's treatment team, and are therefore willing to accommodate your needs and concerns as parents. Verbally expressing your concerns and questions at an appropriate time will allow healthcare providers to address your concerns/questions and provide you with appropriate information and support.

As a parent, it is also important to share information with healthcare providers about your hospitalized child, such as the child's nickname, favorite toy/game and any comforting hints to help your child cope with the hospital situation. Remember, parents are part of the child's treatment team at all times, but especially when in the hospital.

Understanding Your Role as a Parent during Your Child's Hospitalization
As a parent it is important to give your hospitalized child the love, attention, and comfort that he/she needs during the hospital stay. However, it is also important to understand that as a parent, you still need to set boundaries and maintain discipline with your hospitalized child. Many parents who care for their child while he/she is in the hospital struggle with trying to find a balance between giving too much and not giving enough to your child during the hospital stay.

As a parent, it is wonderful to comfort your child while he/she is in pain, is ill, or needs to know that you love him. However, it is also important to set limits with your child, even while they are hospitalized, in order to not create bad habits or spoil them. There are several ways to show your child that you care about them without spoiling them, such as giving the child hugs and spending quality time with him/her playing a game, reading a book or singing songs.

Parents are encouraged to interact with their children in a positive, loving and supportive manner while in the hospital and are discouraged from spoiling the hospitalized children with multiple gifts and treats. Many children who are given "special" treats during their hospital stay tend to expect the same treats when returning home; this often creates problems for parents who are no longer willing to accommodate the child's desires. Parents are also encouraged to continue addressing disciplinary issues with their children while they are in the hospital. Many parents are intimidated by healthcare professionals and others in the hospital observing their disciplinary practices with their hospitalized child. Yet healthcare professionals encourage parents to maintain their routine disciplinary techniques with their hospitalized children.

Most healthcare professionals appreciate parents who are willing to address behavior issues with their children while in the hospital setting. Many children misbehave and get out of control in the hospital environment; it is the responsibility of the parents to discipline the child when he/she acts negatively. Giving children time-outs, talking to them about their inappropriate behavior, and setting boundaries related to appropriate behavior in the hospital setting are all favorable disciplinary techniques that may be used in the hospital setting. Parents should maintain their status as authority figures with their children, and continue to use appropriate disciplinary action with children in the hospital environment.

Understanding Your Role as a Parent to Your Non-Hospitalized Children
When one child becomes hospitalized, it is often difficult for parents to meet the needs of their non-hospitalized children. As a parent, there are several things that you can do to ensure that the needs of your non-hospitalized children are being met as you care for and focus on the needs of your hospitalized child. First, it is important for parents to understand that many siblings of hospitalized children experience a wide range of feelings concerning the hospitalization of their brother/sister.

Hospitalization is a stressful time for the entire family, so it is important that the needs of all family members are considered during this time.Most siblings of hospitalized children need reassurance from their parents that the sibling is well cared for by the hospital staff. Parents are encouraged to discuss the hospitalized child's situation with his/her siblings in order to clear up any misunderstandings and misconceptions that may have occurred following the child's admission to the hospital. Parents can provide age appropriate explanations to well-siblings regarding the illness or injury of the hospitalized child, as well as the need for the additional attention that is given to the hospitalized child. It is crucial that parents take the time to acknowledge the feelings of their well-children regarding the situation.Parents who remain at the hospital to care for the hospitalized child are encouraged to maintain daily contact with their well-children.

Daily contact through scheduled phone calls, emails, taped messages, letters, and time with them at home or in the hospital, if they are allowed to visit, is recommended. During this scheduled interaction, well-siblings are given the opportunity to reconnect with their parents and express their feelings, thoughts, needs, and concerns.It is also important for parents to maintain consistent family routines, including mealtime and bedtime rituals, in order to provide a degree of normalcy in the lives of all the children. The well-siblings should also maintain contact with the hospitalized child; visits by the well-siblings are recommended if the physician gives his permission. It is important to prepare your well-children for the visit to the hospital to see their hospitalized sibling.

Contact the Child Life department at Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital if you would like assistance in preparing your well-children for the hospital visit. Child Life Specialists are trained to help children understand the various aspects of the hospital setting, provide age appropriate information about the hospitalized child's illness or treatments, and provide support services to the siblings and family.

Caring for Yourself, as the Parent, During Your Child's Hospitalization
As the parent of a child who is hospitalized, it is important to consider your emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual needs. Most healthcare professionals agree that parents of hospitalized children are incapable of providing the appropriate level of care to their child if they have not first cared for themselves. It is important for parents to take time for themselves, to relax, and take breaks from the hospital environment.Parents caring for hospitalized children need support of family and friends in order to maintain balance in their lives during their child's hospitalization. Healthcare professionals encourage parents to take time for themselves and develop healthy coping strategies in order to deal with the various aspects of their child being hospitalized. Here are several coping techniques recommended for parents of hospitalized children:

  • Keep a journal of the hospital experience
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Use guided imagery to relax and refresh your senses
  • Use deep breathing exercises to alleviate stress
  • Maintain a moderate level of physical activity (i.e. walk around the hospital three times a day)
  • Take a warm bath or shower
  • Get a massage or facial
  • Pray or meditate at the hospital chapel
  • Write letters to friends or relatives
  • Utilize the support of friends and family to give you a break from the hospital on a consistent basis
  • Maintain healthy eating patterns
  • Remember, it is just as important to care for yourself, as it is to care for your hospitalized child and your other family members.

The Child life Department has put together a collection of resources for parents to check out regarding various issues related to your child's stay in the hospital. These resources can be checked out from the Child Life Office on the Pediatric Unit at your convenience. The resources listed below contain excellent information for parents and siblings of hospitalized children:

  • Your Child In The Hospital. By Nancy Keene & Rachel Prentice (O'Reily, CA 1997)
  • When Your Brother or Sister Has Cancer. By L. Rudolph (Candlelighters Foundation – Suite 1011, 2025 Eye Street NW, Washington, DC20006)
  • When Molly Was In The Hospital: A Book For Brother & Sisters of Hospitalized Children. By Debbie Duncan (Rayve Prod., 1994)
  • What About Me? When Brothers and Sisters Get Sick. By Allan Peterkin, M.D.(Book Center, Montreal, Quebec, 1992)
  • Hi, My Name is Jack (A Book for Healthy Siblings of Chronically Ill Children). By Christina Beall-Sullivan, MS, RN (Christina Beall-Sullivan, 2000)
  • Video: "What am I, Chopped Liver?" Communicating With Your Doctor (1998, Starbright Foundation) 
  • Video: "Why Charlie Brown, Why?" (American Cancer Society)
 
 
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