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Explaining Your Hospital Stay to Young Children

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 21 Sep 2020 | comments*Discuss
Explaining Your Hospital Stay To Young

If you have to go into hospital and you have young children, it can be a particularly traumatic time and very worrying for you. Nobody likes to be separated from their children for any great length of time and your worries are likely to be compounded by the fact that you might also be worrying about your impending treatment too.

Above all this however, one of the things you’re likely to be concerned about the most is how you’re going to explain the situation to a young child.

Don’t Try To Conceal It

Once you know you’re going to have to go into hospital, which will mean leaving your children to be cared for by a partner or perhaps a relative and have come to terms with that yourself, then you should not try to conceal the issue from your children or delay telling them for too long.

Even quite young children can pick up signs that you’re keeping something from them and, ultimately, once you do get around to telling them, this can cause a sense of distrust and maybe even resentment in that they’ll wonder why you kept it from them in the first place.

Furthermore, in doing this, you’re sending out a message to your children that it’s better not to talk about your problems which, of course, is the entirely wrong message to be sending out.

Preparing To Tell The Children

Depending on the gravity of the medical problem you have, it might take you a few days to work through your emotions first of all but once you’ve done that, it’s time to start working out how you’re going to explain the situation to your children.

You will know how to communicate with your children best and so you need to come up with an explanation that they will be able to relate to according to their level of maturity. You should try to explain things with as much clarity as possible but without causing distress or alarm.

It’s perfectly acceptable to ‘bend the truth’ a little if you feel that by doing so, it’s less likely to worry them. For example, telling a 5 year old immediately that you’ve got to go into hospital because you have cancer might not always be the right approach. Even if you’re able to explain to the child that it’s not serious, the inquisitive nature of a child might prompt him/her to go to school and tell friends about your condition where they might be told by another schoolfriend that their grandfather died of cancer.

Therefore, a better approach might be to say something like, “Mummy’s got to spend a few days in hospital to have a lump removed.” Obviously, you can tailor this explanation to suit your own particular condition and make it appropriate to the age of the child.

The Question of Dying

Children will inevitably be very worried when you tell him you have to go into hospital. As a parent, you represent total security and strength to your children so to have to admit that all is not as well as it should be can be somewhat frightening to a child as they’ll see it as a threat to their own security.

As a consequence, they may raise the question of death and may possible come straight out and ask you, “Are you going to die?” It’s important that you answer this question seriously and don’t try to nonchalantly sweep it aside. If you do have a life-threatening condition, the best way of answering this would be to say something like, “I hope I’m not going to die. The hospital I’m going to be in is one of the best and the doctors there are the best people around to help me get better but if anything changes, I’ll let you know.”

Young children are likely to want to ask you many more questions once you’ve told them you need to go into hospital. Try to answer these as openly and honestly as you can in a manner that is age appropriate.

Assuring Your Child Of Their Own Security

Once you’ve finished your explanation and your child has completed their questioning, the next stage is to reassure them that they will be cared for whilst you’re away. Let them know that Daddy/Mummy will be looking after them, cooking for them and doing the school run etc and that their routine is not going to change one bit.

Alternatively, if the child is going to need to stay with a relative or close friend, also explain that their routine will be kept the same or as close to the norm as possible. Basically, a child needs to know that the status quo will be preserved whilst you’re away. You can also explain how they’ll be able to visit you in hospital every day, which will give them added reassurance.

It’s also important for you to let your child’s school know what is happening so that they can keep a closer eye on them whilst you’re in hospital and can pay them even more attention should they be showing signs of worry or distress as a result of your hospitalisation.

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Hi, my husband had pneumonia early in the year. We told the kids (3 and 5 at the time) what was going on and took them in (pre covid) to see him and sit on his bed etc but since then my son Harry gets up still about it. Now my husband is in over night with painful kidney stones and may have to have a procedure to remove it. We've not told the children as they got really upset last time and we feel it really affected them. So I've said daddy's gone away on a business trip for a few days. Am I wrong to tell them this? Reading your article it is, but the alternative of them being distressed not being able to see him this time is going to make it worse and my sons just started school so he's in a state of flux at the moment anyway so we just don't know what the right path is apart from a lie. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks
Lucy - 21-Sep-20 @ 5:43 PM
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