Preparing Your Child for Hospitalization

Preparing Your Child for Hospitalization at MedStar Georgetown


What You Need to Know

There are ways that you, as parents, can prepare your child for a hospital stay.

  1. For your convenience, there is a shower, a refrigerator, washer/dryer, and a microwave in our family lounge.
  2. Parents have open visiting hours and will be given identification bracelets to wear during your stay. Siblings are always welcome to visit but cannot stay overnight.
  3. Honesty is the best policy! Being honest with your child is very important as well as answering any questions that may be concerning them.
  4. Using age appropriate words and minimally threatening language will be the key when explaining to your child why he or she may be coming to the hospital. Never promise that whatever is being done will not hurt.
  5. Thinking about coping strategies and talking about how to get through a procedure is important.
  6. Younger children between the ages of two to four and even older find it easy to think they are being punished and it is something they did wrong when they come to the hospital. It is important for them to understand it is not their fault that they are in the hospital.
  7. Having choices for your child will be important in a hospital setting, where they feel like they have lost control. Asking what outfit they may want to wear, what toys to pack, what to bring, what to eat, what movie to watch. Having some choices will help your child feel a sense of control.
  8. It is okay to cry and be upset. It is critical for your child not to bottle up feelings. Giving them a job during the medical procedure may be an option such as your job is to hold very still and it is the most important job. When children feel they have an important job, they feel as if they are still somewhat in control.

Tips for Parents by Age Groups


Infants are sensitive to their surroundings such as your tone of voice, touch, and sudden movements. New faces and a new environment can be sensed by your infant very easily. It will be important to lower your anxiety as parents as your infant will be able to sense your anxiety. Maintaining routines can also help lower anxiety in your infant.

Mirrors, mobiles, and brightly colored crib toys are available for your infant. While holding your infant, try your best not to have a medical conversation; infants can feel your tension. Bring familiar objects from home such as blankets, dolls, music that your infant may be used to. Your presence, bonding time is the most critical part of hospitalization for infants.


Most toddlers and preschoolers are ready to be independent, want choices, and there are power struggles. At the same time, they still crave the attention and nurturing from when they were infants. They are beginning to increase their vocabulary, which will still be limited so they may not be able to tell us exactly what they need or want. This is also the age where their imagination and thinking runs wild which can lead to fears and nightmares that we as adults might not think as serious.

Remember to start not too early with talking to your toddler or preschooler about their hospitalization or procedure. One to three days before hospitalization, you can start talking about going to the hospital using simple words.

Reading books about hospitalization are a great way to start talking about the hospital and different things inside the hospital. Toddlers and preschoolers learn through play so role playing with hospital play kits are another way to talk to your toddler or preschooler about the hospital and things that go on. They may have seen or read about the doctor or hospital through books and television shows. Your toddler or preschooler can have misconceptions about the hospital and this is a good time to learn about them.

Bring familiar objects from home that your toddler or preschooler is comforted with; it may be a blanket or a stuffed animal. Allow your child to choose what his or her favorite toy to bring. Movies, art supplies, board games are available for your child's use.

They also can easily pick up on your tension and anxiety. Stressful medical conversations should be completed outside of your child's room. Reassuring your child that hospitalization or a medical procedure is not a punishment is important! If you ever need to leave your child during their hospitalization, be sure to tell them how long, who will come and stay with them and how they can talk to you while you are gone.

School Age Children

Social events and peer relationships become more and more important during this age. Children in this age group are very aware of their body changes as well as their physical image. They are very sensitive to body examinations and may feel embarrassed. Giving them their privacy during these times will be critical.

School age children can understand a little bit more and can be given more information. Medical play can be very effective with this age group. One to two weeks before hospitalization gives them plenty of time to ask questions and be aware of the procedure.

It is also important to include your child in conversations when the medical team enters the room using child friendly language. When your child feels that they are included, they sense they have more control over the situation.

School age children will also miss peer interactions and privacy. Some children may regress to behaviors that they had grown out of. Help your child express his or her emotions through distraction and play.

Allow your child to pack his or her own suitcase and allow them to pick a couple comfort items that will help him or her at the hospital.

Movies, art supplies, and board games are available for your child's use.


Children in this age group are very sensitive about their body image and their privacy is very important to them. Social events and peer interactions are also very important to them. When hospitalized, adolescents will feel as if they have lost complete control and their life has been put on hold. They will feel like they have been cut off from their normal routine and from all of their friends and family.

It will be important for your child to have siblings and visitors when appropriate. Wireless internet is available for your child to use so they can stay connected with the outside world. Feel free to bring your laptop to connect to our network or we have one here that your child can use.

Encourage your child to make decisions and ask questions about their condition or procedures. Include your child in conversations made with the medical team when appropriate. Also give them many opportunities to discuss what is happening and any concerns they may have.

What to bring to the hospital?

Familiar objects from home may be comforting for children when coming into an intimidating environment.

  • A favorite toy or stuffed animal
  • A special pillow or blanket, even bed sheets.
  • Comfortable pajamas and slippers- the hospital provides gowns for medical procedures and surgery, but it is nice for your child to have their "own" clothes for other times during your stay.
  • Magazines, books or other reading material.
  • An interactive television through the Get Well Network is provided in every patient room. You will have access to the internet, movies, games and education. A portable Nintendo Wii can be provided.

Wireless is available for our patients and families; bring your laptop and other electronic devices from home.

Pediatric Surgery

OPERATION DAY with BUD E BEAR from on Vimeo.

If your child is coming to the hospital for surgery you might want to show them this video which can help prepare kids for surgery and start the conversation of what the hospital experience will be like for them!

The first step in reducing anxiety is being prepared for the hospital experience. Sometimes taking a tour is a great way to help prepare a child for their hospitalization. The benefits of a tour include:

  • Helps to reduce anxiety and fear of the unknown
  • Lets the Child Life Specialist introduce medical equipment in a non-threatening environment
  • Allows any misconceptions a child might have to be cleared up prior to the day of surgery.

If your child's procedure involves an overnight hospital stay and you would like a tour of our inpatient unit, feel free to contact the Child Life, Education and Arts office at 202-444-3037 and schedule a tour.