What to tell your child

You can ask your child's nurse or a Child Life Specialist to help you prepare your child for an upcoming procedure.

Listen to and observe your child's cues concerning their needs for preparation. If your child will be conscious during a medical procedure, it's a good idea to prepare them in advance. It's important to tell your child what they will see, hear, feel, taste, and smell before, during and after the procedure. For example, what the environment will look like, and will you be there. This will help your child feel less vulnerable.

The best time to prepare your child depends on their age.

The fear of the unknown may create anxiety. By taking the time to talk and prepare them, you will help reduce some of their stress and anxiety. Preparation alone does not necessarily mean your child will not cry or be upset. Note these are perfectly normal and acceptable reactions.

To reach a Child Life Specialist, call 514-412-4400, ext. 22570.

Helping your child cope: age-appropriate guidelines

  • At this age, being separated from parents causes the most anxiety. Be present with your child, and hold, comfort and talk to them.
  • Your infant can often sense your worries and anxieties so try to remain calm.
  • Talk to your child. The sound of your voice can be very soothing. Talking also stimulates your child and promotes their development. Tell them what is happening, name things or tell them a story.
  • Play peek-a-boo. Infants do not understand that what is not visible still exists. This game helps your child learn to trust that they will see you again.
  • As much as possible, try to maintain your child's regular schedule (feeding, sleeping, etc.)
  • Create a stimulating environment with a mobile and brightly-coloured toys in the crib.
  • Play soft music, lullabies or sing to your child.
  • Bring familiar items from home such as toys, stuffed animals or a favourite blanket.
  • Encourage rolling, kicking, crawling and reaching for toys by placing them in the crib. 

  • Stay with your child as much as possible. If you have to leave, tell them when you will be leaving and when you will be coming back (e.g. after lunch, after nap, before the TV show ends).
  • Bring familiar and favorite toys and objects to the hospital.
  • Offer your child as many choices as possible, only where real choices exist. This provides them with some sense of control. ("Which game would you like to play? What would you like to eat, watch, etc.")
  • Tell your child what will be happening. The best time to prepare a toddler is just a few minutes before the procedure. Any sooner and they are likely to forget.
  • Allow your child to express anger, fear and sadness. These feelings are normal and acceptable.
  • During a procedure, you may try to distract your child by engaging in a fun activity to reduce anxiety and negative feelings. Read a book, blow bubbles or use any toy that has sounds and lights. You may not be able to take away the fear or pain, but you can let them know you are there to support them.
  • If your child is mobile and you have the nurse's permission, you may bring them to the playroom on the unit or in the Child Life department on S1. Play is a safe, natural and universal tool in which children can work through feelings, grow, learn and have positive experiences which are especially important during a stressful and frightening experience.

  • Preschoolers tend to view their hospitalization as punishment for something they have done. Reassure your child it is not their fault and they are not being punished.
  • Stay with your child as much as possible. If you need to leave, tell your child when you will be leaving and when you will be coming back. Since preschoolers cannot understand the concept of time, it is important you use concrete terms (e.g. after lunch, before your favorite TV show, after your nap).
  • Children at this age need things explained to them in honest and simple terms. The best time to prepare your child is a few hours before the treatment.
  • Explain what they will see, hear, feel and smell. Preschoolers are good at using their imaginations. Knowing what to expect will reduce the likelihood of threatening fantasies.
  • During a procedure, you may try to distract your child by engaging in a fun activity to reduce anxiety and negative feelings. Read a book, blow bubbles or use any toy that has sounds and lights. If distraction does not work, you may simply explain what is happening to them and what they can do to help. You may not be able to take the fear or pain away, but you can let them know you are there to support them.
  • Encourage play opportunities for your child. There are playrooms on the inpatient units and in the Child Life department on S1. Check with the nurse to make sure your child can leave the unit. Please be sure to advise the nurse of where your child will be.
  • Encourage your child to express their feelings by playing doctor/nurse. They can pretend their favourite doll or animal is the patient and they are the doctor or nurse.
  • Read books together about going to the hospital.

  • Prepare your child a few days in advance. Explain what they will see, hear, smell and feel. Also explain changes that may occur in their body as a result of treatments and medications. Children this age may think about what will happen and come back to you with questions related to the procedure.
  • Talk to your child and answer questions openly and honestly.
  • Allow them to pack their own bag/suitcase with favourite items.
  • Encourage them to keep in touch with friends.
  • Encourage friends to come and visit and encourage your child to meet and socialize with other children in the hospital.
  • Encourage your child to engage in arts and crafts, games, and other activities offered at the hospital.

  • Adolescents tend to be concerned with body image and changes. It is important to let them know what will happen and how they will look afterwards.
  • Include your teenager in discussions and decisions about treatment and encourage them to ask questions. Legally, a child over 14 years old can make medical decisions and request their medical information be kept confidential.
  • Encourage them to talk and express their feelings, but understand they may want to keep certain things to themselves. Allow them to make choices and respect their need for privacy.
  • Encourage friends and peers to visit them in the hospital but also understand and respect that your teenager may not want their peers to see them due to bodily changes.