When Your Child Stays in the Hospital

There are many reasons your child needs to stay in the hospital. Your child may have an illness, may need to have tests, or may need to have treatment, such as surgery. The hospital can seem like a large and scary place to your child. For some children, it’s their first time away from home or away from parents. They may be worried about what will happen to them. You can help your child by learning more about what goes on during a hospital stay. Know what to expect and prepare your child in advance. This can relieve some of your child’s fears and also build trust between you, your child, and your child’s healthcare team.

Health Care profressional talking with little girl in hospital.

Your child’s hospital room

Hospital rooms may be specially designed for children. There may be pictures and characters on the walls or mobiles hanging from the ceiling. The rooms often hold more than one patient, so your child may have a roommate. Each room has the following:

  • A hospital bed or crib. A hospital bed has guardrails on the sides for extra safety. The head and foot of the bed can be moved up or down with a set of controls. This allows your child to rest comfortably. Cribs also have guardrails.

  • A call button. This can be used to call a nurse or healthcare provider if your child needs assistance.

  • A TV and possibly a DVD or VCR player. Your child will have a remote control and can watch TV shows and movies to pass the time.

  • A phone. This is within reach near the bed. Your child can speak with friends and family directly.

  • A bathroom. A nurse or healthcare provider will assist your child if he or she needs help getting to the bathroom.

  • Basic emergency equipment. This includes a resuscitation bag, oxygen, a flow meter, a suction canister, and a suction machine.

The hospital staff

Many hospital staff with different specialties are involved in your child’s care. All staff should have identification (ID) tags that identify who they are. If you aren’t sure who someone is, don’t hesitate to ask. Here are some of the people you and your child might meet:

  • Healthcare providers are responsible for your child’s care and treatment. Your child will have a primary healthcare provider who may be aided by residents, nurse practitioners, or medical students.

  • Registered nurses (RN) develop care plans for your child and can answer questions about your child's care. Registered nurses are responsible for the daily care that includes administering medicines to your child. RNs may be assisted by a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or a licensed vocation nurse (LVN). Nursing assistants, sometimes called patient care technicians (PCT) may be available to assist with daily care such as bathing and obtaining vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature.)

  • Pharmacists make sure your child receives the right medicine in the correct amount and on schedule.

  • The unit secretary runs the administration desk on the hospital floor. He or she can usually be heard over the intercom.

  • Patient support assistants help clean equipment and stock supplies.

  • Therapists help assess and improve your child’s breathing, speech, strength, or movement and flexibility.

  • A clinical nutritionist or dietitian helps with your child’s nutritional needs and can teach you about any special diets your child may need.

  • A child life specialist helps your child understand what to expect during his or her time in the hospital and to cope with the experience.

  • A social worker can help you deal with problems concerning your child’s hospital care. He or she can offer support, provide counseling when you have questions, and refer you to community resources.

  • A chaplain can provide spiritual and emotional care and counseling for you and your child.

A typical hospital day

Hospitals are open all day and night. This is to make sure that patients receive care around the clock. During a typical hospital day, a nurse or healthcare provider may:

  • Check your child’s vital signs (respiratory rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature)

  • Do a physical exam on your child

  • Give your child medicines

  • Deliver a meal tray

  • Assess your child’s pain

  • Help your child with personal hygiene (such as bathing)

  • Check intravenous (IV) lines and insertion sites

  • Check wounds or incision sites

  • Change dressings on wounds or incisions

  • Empty bags, such as urine bags

Special considerations

These include:

  • Your child may need to stay in a special room if he or she has an illness that could spread to others. Staff may need to wear special gloves, masks, or gowns when treating your child. Visitors may be limited or need to wear similar protective items to prevent illness.

  • Items such as flowers, balloons, food, candy, and toys may not be allowed depending on your child’s condition. Check with your child’s healthcare provider about any rules that you should know.


Helping your child

Here are some ways to help your child during his or her hospital stay:

  • Ask your child’s healthcare providers if you can be present during treatments and procedures.

  • Stay with your child in the hospital as much as you can. Most hospitals allow you to sleep in the hospital room with your child. Sometimes there are cots or special chairs that convert into beds. Check with a member of your child’s healthcare team about the visitation rules at your child’s hospital.

  • Comfort your child by touching him or her often. Stroke your child’s hair or hold his or her hand.

  • Allow your child to describe his or her feelings and emotions. Let your child know that it’s OK to cry or be afraid or upset.

  • Spend time doing activities with your child. Play games, watch videos, read books, or play music with your child. This can help your child relax and pass the time.

  • Bring comfort items from home such as your child’s favorite blanket or stuffed animal. Familiar items can help ease your child’s fears and anxieties about being away from home.

  • Encourage your child to call or write to family members and friends. Sharing letters or photos can help your child feel connected to home or school.