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Advice Every Parent Needs When a Child Is Hospitalized

January 25, 2021

We never expect our children to spend time in the hospital. So, when it happens, it can be a jarring experience both for the child and their family. But even if you feel like life is spinning out of control, there are things you can do to better navigate the situation. 

What to Expect

Your child is going to have a care team made up of professionals from a range of specialties. As you probably expect, there will be doctors and nurses. But this group also could include a pharmacist, dietitian, respiratory therapist, physical therapist, social worker, chaplain and a child life specialist. Depending on the reason for hospitalization, some combination of these professionals could be involved in caring for your child. One of the first things you’ll want to do is get to know everyone on the team. 

Meeting With the Team

You don’t need to be present to ensure that your child is receiving excellent treatment. But communication with the care team will make the hospitalization and subsequent transition home as smooth as possible. The best way to interact with the team is to be present for “rounding.”  This is when most of the team meets to discuss yesterday’s care and the plan for today. This often happens in the morning. Ask your child’s nurse when the team plans to meet and let it be known that you would like to be included.  

You’re Not Being Pushy 

Many parents would hesitate to ask about participating in these meetings, but you need to remember that you know your child better than anyone else. Only you can provide details about your child’s life outside the hospital. For this reason, you are an essential part of the care team. Don’t think you are being pushy for asking to be included. 

Even if you can’t be present when the team meets, that doesn’t mean you can’t be involved.  When you talk to your child’s nurse, come up with a plan for your involvement, such as having the nurse call you when the team meets. A few minutes talking to the team by phone can help guide the day’s treatment plan. 

Communication Is Key

Don’t be surprised if you quickly feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of people you meet during this experience. Consider the findings of one hospital staffing study: The typical hospital patient could interact with as many as 60 staff members during a four-day hospital stay, according to the authors. 

How can you, or your child, hope to remember all these people? An insider’s tip: Look for an information board in your child’s room. Often the team will put important names and numbers on this board. It also may be useful to carry a notepad to jot down names (and even physical descriptions) to help keep everyone straight.  

Hospitals Don’t Have to Be Scary

A few items from home, such as a comforter or a pillow, can help your child’s hospital room feel less threatening and more like home. Also, remember that our children look to us more than we may realize. How you behave in this setting may have a direct impact on your child’s behavior. If you get to know and trust the staff, your child will likely do the same. And if you are upset, it may help to speak with someone (a social worker or a chaplain) about your concerns. By talking about your feelings, you can better understand what’s driving your anxiety or stress.

It’s important that you, as the parent, help create positive memories from this time in the hospital. Modeling good communication and trust will set your child up for a lifetime of positive healthcare experiences.

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