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Preparing your child for the next visit to the hospital
Many families contact Little Hearts Matter for advice about how to prepare their children for the later stages of surgery or for a hospital admission for a cardiac catheter.
When offering any suggestions it is important to remember that every child copes with hospital admission differently, as do their families: some will enter the whole experience positively, understanding that surgery may not be nice but that they will be able to do more once they have recovered. Others will be anxious about admission, the environment, medical tests and machines.
There is no doubt that some preparation before admission helps most children gain a sense of control through understanding.
As parents, one of the most important preparations for admission is for you to understand as much as possible about the planned catheter or surgery. If you are confused or lack information, it is difficult to confidently prepare your child. If you feel that you need to know more, contact your Cardiac Liaison Sister or outreach nurse who will help you find answers to your questions.
Some hospitals offer pre-admission assistance, perhaps with a specific pre-admission clinic, or with an opportunity to meet with one of the surgeons to understand more about the planned operation plus an opportunity to visit specific areas of the hospital again. You may feel that you don’t need to see the ward, theatres or ITU yourself but remember that your child may have been a baby at their last admission so a visit may well allay the fears conjured up by their imagination and the views of hospital portrayed by television.
If your child shows an increasing fear of the tests done as an outpatient it might be helpful to talk to the liaison team about arranging some play sessions where they can explore the equipment in a non-threatening environment. This may relieve some of the stress before an admission.
The key to preparing the whole family is to do it gradually, incorporating hospital play into everyday life. Reading hospital stories at bedtime, buying or borrowing the Playmobil hospital sets, or using other hospital toys all give the children a chance to explore hospitals in a non-threatening way. It is important to include brothers and sisters in this play as they may well have concerns that can be alleviated by giving them the chance to express them through play.
Little Hearts Matter members can contact the office to request our Hospital Pack which contains a toy medical kit, hospital Playmobil sets, a number of books and more. The hospital pack is available to members to borrow for a period of three weeks. For more information or to order one, Contact Us
Parents often ask when would be the best time to tell their child about an upcoming admission to hospital. This is very individual and often depends on how the parents can cope with the child knowing rather than the child’s fears alone. Telling the children weeks ahead can often lead to great problems of extended anticipation, but letting them know a few days before you go in that the doctors are going to try to make their hearts work better helps the child trust everyone. Some organisations recommend telling a child aged between two and seven the number of days ahead of their admission which corresponds to their age. Older children are likely to be involved in earlier discussions so should be told further in advance.
Once your child knows about the admission, include them and their brothers and sisters in the planning. Encourage them to decide what toys to take with them. Pack a few boxes with favourite games and ask the siblings to bring the boxes in one at a time to help vary the toys during a long admission.
Pack a little rucksack or bag that your child can carry that includes favourite comfort toys, videos / DVDs, blankets and books. This all helps the child to feel part of the preparation and to feel secure with the different surroundings in the ward. Make sure that your child knows if you are able to stay with them in the ward, and if not, when to expect to see you.
It is also nice to plan something that all the family can do when the admission is over - a family trip or holiday, a party or a visit to a friend’s. Don’t set dates and don’t make promises you may not be able to keep, but talk about the event as a positive once your child’s heart is better.
No one can take away all the worry of a hospital admission but some of the ideas included here may give you some new ways to help reduce the stress.
For more information please call the office on 0121 455 8982
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