Managing a stay in hospital

Depending on your child’s condition they may have to spend some time in hospital. This can feel very distressing, even with a great medical team and nursing team around your child, what you want is to be at home together as a family. However, sometimes hospital stays cannot be avoided. Your child may also be very upset as they are in unfamiliar surroundings that feel strange. As hard as it can be, there are ways that you can try and make the experience less difficult. Here is a checklist of things you might want to consider.

Gather as much information as possible 

Gather as much information as possible about what will happen to your child during a hospital stay will make it easier for you to prepare your child. You can ask your doctor, nurse and the Patient Liaison Service (PALS) at your local hospital. Although it can feel daunting, interacting with health professionals can be positive and an opportunity to get any questions you have answered. 

Julie says: “We had our first meeting with the maxillofacial team…they were so lovely and totally spoilt Finn…the consultant gave him a new set of jigsaws to play with during our meeting and then take home with him, and the nurse gave him 9 stickers for being so good! It looks like he may need some teeth out and a small bone biopsy…I’m not as anxious about it all now and again feel more empowered, confident and reassured…”

What is it like on a hospital ward?

It is helpful to ask what the ward is like. You could ask the medical team, or you might find information on the hospital website. Look out for information on what is happening on the children’s wards such as; what toys are available, what are the visiting hours? Or How many people can visit at one time? 

What do I need to take?

If there are specific things you will need to take to hospital hopefully your medical team will have discussed this with you or this will be detailed in your hospital letters. This might include pyjamas that fasten up at the front if your child is having surgery on the head, face or neck, and loose fitted clothing. Think about how long your child is staying in hospital and what they will be likely to need, remembering there is not a lot of space at the side of hospital beds! Check if the hospital has games and books as this may help with deciding what to take. If your child has a specific cup they like, or comforters they use take these along as these can help them to have a little bit of home at hospital. 

Packing and choosing what to take can help children, even toddlers, to feel more in control. This is important when in an environment where lots of decisions and choices are being made for them. Young children might choose a favourite toy, older children a game, electronics or piece of clothing. Mobile phones can be essential for older children to ensure they feel in touch with the world and their friends.

Also – remember to pack for yourself too. Are there little things you want to take with you? A mug that you use at home or things to do when your child is resting. You might want to take a mobile phone power bank to make sure your phone is always charged to keep in touch with home.

Arranging child care

If you have other children, start to plan who will take care of them while you are at the hospital. This can be very tricky and vary depending on your personal circumstances. If you have a partner and you are going to split the childcare, try and make sure you have some time together to support each other. For extended hospital stays, you might want to take it in turns to have a night at home to get some more rest. Hospitals are not the best place to get a good night’s sleep. 

Is there any accommodation for parents?

Whilst you may be able to stay with your child, you still need to factor in washing, and changing. Check what facilities there are for parents at the hospital. Is accommodation available? If so, what is the cost and how do you book? Often accommodation is limited so it is a good idea to look into this as soon as possible. 

Arranging time off work

Check with work what you need to do to take time off to be with your child. If your child is going to be in hospital or recovering for longer than a few weeks you may need to look at what provisions are in place to support you with this through work. Balancing home and work life can be tricky when your child needs medical care, and organisations such as ‘Contact A Family’ and ‘Working Families’ can offer information and support to working parents. If you are not currently working and claiming benefits you may need to speak to a benefits advisor about this if you are not going to be able to attend appointments.

Look after yourself

Looking after your needs is important. You may find it helps to talk with family, friends and hospital staff, take regular breaks and ask for support or information. You might want another trusted adult there to support you and your child. Sometimes this can be difficult if you have had to travel far away from home so try and think about how you will speak to friends and family while you are away.

After care

Check what sort of after care, if any your child will need. How long will they need to stay off school after they leave hospital? How long will you need to be with them? 

When your child returns from treatment you may feel a range of feelings – there may be relief, but also shock at what your child looks like straight after treatment, or you may feel alarmed by all the medical equipment or be worried about all the care your child needs. It may take time to get used to the changes and hard to see how your child will look when things have healed. These are difficult feelings to deal with and you may like to talk them through with someone.

There are so many things to consider if your child requires a stay or repeated stays in hospital and this can be very challenging for parents, especially if you have other children or work. Preparing can help, but it’s important to have people who you can talk to and support you. Speak to people who you trust, try not to bottle up feelings. You might also find it helpful to speak with other parents for advice on managing hospital stays, ask your medical team if this is possible. If you want further advice contact Changing Faces.

Talking with your child about treatment


Supporting your child after treatment


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