Child Life Family Resources: Helping Your Child Cope

Hospitalization is a frightening time for children. It’s filled with new people and places, and unknown tests and procedures. These family resources from our Child Life specialists can help you prepare your child for hospitalization or a clinic visit.

Children often cope better when they’re told what to expect ahead of time. When preparing a child for a hospital visit or a clinic visit, it’s important to:

  • Use appropriate explanations
  • Be honest about what the child might feel, see, hear, smell, or taste; if something might hurt, let them know
  • Clearly explain the child’s “job” during the procedure (“Your job is to keep your arm REALLY still”)
  • Develop a coping plan ahead of time
  • Give as many choices as possible to allow for a sense of control
    • Ask if the child wants to watch or be distracted
    • Have something to squeeze (stress ball or hand)
    • Sit in a family member’s lap if possible

Being honest with your child doesn't only help them cope better. It also allows them to develop trust and make future hospitalizations less stressful.

When Should I Prepare My Child?

How far in advance you start preparing your child is up to you. You know your child best. You want to make sure they have enough time to cope with their feelings without adding too much stress.

We recommend you start:

  • Toddler: 1-2 days before their visit
  • Preschool age: 3-5 days
  • Elementary-Middle school age: 1-2 weeks
  • Teenager: 2-3 weeks

Helping Your Child Cope

The strategies you use to help your child cope change as they get older. Here are some strategies we recommend:

Infant (Birth – 1 year)

Separation anxiety is their greatest fear at this age.

  • Spend as much time as possible at the bedside with your child
  • Sooth your child: hold them, feed them, read and sing to them
  • Bring comfort items, like favorite toys, from home
  • Keep to their routines as much as possible
  • Use comfort positions, like holding your child, during tests or procedures when possible

Toddler (1-3 years)

Separation and stranger anxieties are their greatest fears at this age.

  • Explain what will happen to them during hospitalization in an age-appropriate way (for example, explain what part of the body the doctor is going to fix)
  • Give them appropriate choices, when available, to give a sense of control (“You need to take your medicine. Do you want to take it in a medicine cup or a syringe?”)
  • Bring comfort items/toys from home
  • Provide opportunities for them to express emotions through play
  • Reassure them that hospitalization is NOT a punishment
  • Be with them during procedures and use comfort positions when possible
  • Maintain their daily schedule as much as possible

Preschool (3-5 years)

Separation anxiety and fear of damage to the body are most common at this age.

  • Use simple, clear, and honest explanations of what will happen during hospitalization
  • Reassure them that hospitalization is not their fault
  • Give them choices to allow a sense of control
  • Allow them to help during a procedure by giving them a job (“Can you hold this Band-Aid while they draw your blood?”)
  • Bring comfort items from home
  • Be with them during procedures and use comfort positions
  • Provide opportunities for self-expression and play

School age (6-12 years)

Fear of pain/sensory experiences and loss of control are the greatest fears at this age.

  • Use clear and honest explanations of hospitalization, diagnosis, and treatment to help them understand better
  • Include them in discussions of their care plan as much as possible
  • Encourage them to ask questions and express feelings
  • Keep them connected to school and friends as much as possible

Teen (13-18 years)

Fear of changes in physical appearance, rejection from friends and schoolmates, and loss of independence are the greatest fears at this age.

  • Use honest and detailed explanations of hospitalization, diagnosis, and treatment
  • Include teen in all conversations regarding their care plan
  • Encourage them to ask questions
  • Provide opportunities for time alone
  • Respect their privacy
  • Provide opportunities for them to connect with family and friends

Sibling Support

  • Be honest in explanations regarding their sibling’s hospitalization
  • Keep their routine as normal as possible
  • Keep them connected to their sibling in the hospital
    • Allow them to visit the hospital as often as possible
    • Let them use video calls when visits aren’t possible
    • Have them draw pictures or write letters to their hospitalized sibling
  • Encourage them to ask questions, and answer questions honestly
  • Make time to do something fun with them at home
  • Remind them that they aren’t responsible for sibling’s hospitalization
  • Be aware and sensitive to behavior changes
  • Keep teachers and other caregivers updated

Resources for Kids at the Hospital


The playroom is a safe place where children can go and be free of medical tests and procedures. Children must be accompanied by a supervising adult. No food or drinks are allowed.

  • Location: 7 Central Day Room
  • Open to patients and siblings who are not on isolation precautions
  • Open 24 hours
  • Includes:
    • Tables and chairs
    • Infant and toddler area
    • Toys & board games
    • Arts and crafts
    • Books

Teen Space

  • Location: 7 West
  • Open 24 hours
  • Includes:
    • Sofas and Chairs
    • TV/Computers
    • Video games systems
    • Art/craft station
    • Teen games
    • Books

Family Resource Room

  • Location: Entrance of NICU
  • Includes:
    • Sofas and chairs
    • Coffee
    • Computers
    • Books and resources