Healthcare professionals dealing with hospitalised children need to work hand-in-hand with the parents on how they can provide the emotional support – and create a less stressful hospital stay for their children.

Making a child’s hospital stay a pleasant one

Often enough, various ‘unpleasant’ visuals or ‘daunting’ imagery seem to come to mind, in the mention of the word “hospital”. It may appear as an inhospitable or ‘alien’ environment to a child, sometimes triggering emotional upheavals, depending on previous experiences.

While many children’s wards today look colourful, cheery and welcoming – adults around them, especially parents, play an important role in providing security, love and assurance.

Likening the hospital admission to an adventure or a camping trip could be helpful for older children – but the anxiety would still remain regardless how old or young they are. An age-related focus should therefore be adapted to each child, which also depends on the child’s temperament, among other factors.

Creating a safe and secure environment

Children generally need to feel safe and secured and it would be helpful to have familiar items by their side. Suggestions include:

1. A favourite toy she always plays with, which is simple, quiet and safe (e.g. a night blanket, stuffed toy or teddy bear).

2. An item that acts as a reminder from home/family. Place this at the end of the bed, or where the child can have a full view of when she is on her bed (e.g. a framed photograph or drawing).

3. Mess-free activities (e.g. craftwork, crossword puzzles, word search), colouring pages which can be easily downloaded from the internet, origami work, or removable stickers with books.

4. A diary or blank page book for an older child to write on or to draw out her thoughts, in the form of a journal.

5. If bringing homemade food is allowed, plan this in advance with the child so that she can look forward to her meals. In addition, maintaining a well-balanced nutrition plays an important role in restoring optimal health.

A ‘break’ for the caregivers, too

A hospital stay can take a toll on the child’s parents as well; especially if the child’s condition demands more attention. The uncertainty of the unknown, with tests upon tests being ordered upon to find the medical answer, makes the time seem to be standing still.

Furthermore, separation anxiety is commonly faced by any child in such circumstances, especially now that she is confined within the hospital walls.

Healthcare professionals can aid parents in dealing with this by identifying which part of the day the child needs their parents the most. The child can be a cheery riser or enjoys the attention when nurses stop and chat – hence, parents can take a break during the ‘good times’.

Leaving the child at short intervals can also help him gain confidence. Additionally, healthcare professionals should introduce themselves or to other staff, as well as familiar people in the ward and encourage the child to make new friends. Healthcare professionals can also suggest to parents to arrange for an adult family member to take over, or bring a favourite family member of the child to lift up his spirits.

Parents serve as an important advocate for the child. Therefore, it is always important to gently remind parents to remain accessible and be open for discussion on the updates and treatment.

Parents play an important role in keeping childrens’ spirits up

For planned admissions, healthcare professionals can discuss in advance with parents to keep their anxieties to a minimum, hence reducing the workload and be more efficient.

Keeping the children’s spirits high may not be an easy task, but parents need to inject the much-needed optimism and provide support, as much as they can – by showing their love and being there during this crucial period. MIMS

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