What Parents Can Do to Help Their Child During a Hospital Stay

These suggestions have been helpful to our family throughout many years of illnesses and hospital admissions. We hope that you will find them helpful as a resource tool during your difficult time at home or in the hospital. Please print for your use!

  1. It was helpful to remember that there are those who care and want to help. We sometimes felt alone as we lived in two worlds- the world of the healthy and the world of the sick. We found it helpful to remind ourselves that others did care and wanted to help; they just did not know specifically what our family needed. So, we made a list of our family’s needs, and when friends and family would call offering help, we could give them suggestions from that list and then they would know specifically how to care for our family. If someone wanted to help he or she could start out by asking one question: “What would I need if I were in that situation”. The answer can begin the process of helping.
  2. It was helpful to remember that your thought processes are not always clear when you are under stress. We realized that after hearing the medical diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, our minds did not function as clearly as they had before. After hearing the word “cancer” we did not hear any more of the conversation. Stress, lack of sleep and lack of eating all affected us. There were times when days would run together after we spent weeks in a hospital setting. We found it helpful, to be mindful of this when making decisions.
  3. It was helpful to remember to use a tape recorder to help with the thought processes. Not only did it help in remembering what was said, when our minds were under a great deal of stress, but it also was used in the review process so that we could formulate questions regarding what was said and what was meant. A tape recorder is sometimes available in the playroom of each hospital unit.
  4. It was helpful to remember to choose a spokesperson to speak for the family. Our primary attention needed to be focused on our family and on our child, so assigning one person to speak for our family and its needs was so very helpful. This person could update others, coordinate meals, and help to organize child care. Also, in regards to time, updating others became a difficult thing to do because we wanted to call back many people, but there never seemed to be enough time to do so. Since we could not make calls during the day we decided to leave a weekly message on our answering machine, updating all who called. This way anyone wanting to know specifics and how they could pray for our family could by calling and listening to the message. We also left the name and phone number of the spokesperson for our family’s needs for anyone calling wanting to know how they could help. Not repeating your circumstance in front of your loved one and freeing up your time to be there for your family were so valuable. Also, some Children hospitals have a web-site where you can update others on your child’s progress. We just asked our social worker if the hospital had a web site for this resource.
  5. It was helpful to remember that we could never promise anything to our child that we could not deliver. This became clearly evident when someone wanting to protect our son said that a procedure would not hurt. After the procedure was done, our son emphatically stated that it indeed did hurt and that he could not trust that person to tell him the truth. We realized how trust could help in the process, and that we needed to be open with our son, in order to help him. When procedures like IV’s or spinal taps were going to be performed we would say that it would hurt but just for a short time; that he should take a deep breath and focus on his happy place (which for our son was the swing in our back yard). We found that when our son had procedures that did not hurt, he would be completely and totally relaxed, knowing that we would always be honest with him. When he would ask questions that we did not have the answers too, we would always try to find the answers for him. Also, we tried to become better listeners because we wanted to respond to each question that came from his heart. We gave him the information that he requested, but we were mindful to give him the answer in a way that was compatible with his age and his understanding.
  6. It was helpful to remember to stay organized. We used a notebook to write down everything. The notebook came in handy as we wrote down questions that came up during the day. Then we would have a written list, of things to remember to ask the doctors the next morning. Also, we used the notebook to write down the names and phone numbers we needed of doctors and to keep the business cards of all involved in our son’s case. The notebook was also used for clinic visits, medications schedules (and their side affects) and also a reminder of medical procedures. This notebook was a valuable resource in the process of staying organized and it was always kept near the phone.
  7. It was helpful to remember that a schedule helps the child. Often trying to keep a schedule is a difficult thing to do in a hospital setting, but doing so is helpful. We would often let the staff know when our son was tired (note on the door for naptime). We requested to know the best time to schedule physical therapy, and when bath and meal times would be. School issues were difficult, but a teacher on the unit helped greatly as well as the hospital staff assigned to each unit. The schedule would be helpful for family and for other visitors, who needed to know when would be the best time for their visit. Keeping a schedule means maintaining some type of normalcy for the child. We were also mindful to open the blinds in the morning to let our son know that it was time to wake and to close the blinds at night to let him know it was time to sleep.
  8. It was helpful to remember to use the hospital services. We did not know all of the services that the hospital provided until sometime later in our stay. There was a social worker assigned to our unit and when we met with her she informed us of all the services the hospital provided. For some hospitals, what they provide was different then what we received, thus some of this information is unique for each hospital. For us, at a Children’s hospital we learned that there were rooms set aside to sleep in during the day and rooms assigned for the evening. Meal tickets and parking vouchers for parents were available through the social worker on the unit. We could order a meal (for a fee) with our child’s meal so we did not have to leave the room as often. We also found one nurse that our son responded to greatly we requested if she could be assigned to his room whenever she was on duty. The answer was positive, and that made our child’s stay more comfortable since she knew him well. Also, remember to use technology within the hospital. The fax machine soon became our friend, since our other two children were living far away. We used the fax, to correct homework, to see completed work, to sign report cards and to send messages of love. As a mom, I would often send love and kisses by way of fax, putting a kiss with lipstick on a sheet of paper and also tracing our hands to show the touch of love sent from the hospital to our home. The response from our boys was usually with anticipation as to see what we had faxed that day.
  9. It was helpful to remember the bring items from home, to make your child’s room more personable. Stuffed toys, posters, artwork, family pictures and games, were always part of our son’s hospital room. We made our child’s room (as much as possible) like his room at home. Bringing all the things that mattered to him to decorate the hospital room made his surroundings more comforting. We found it helpful to keep a camera close at hand, and when someone came for a visit we would take his/her picture and put it on the bulleting board to remind our son how much he was loved and cared for. We also kept a sheet near the door for each visitor to sign before leaving the room; it had our son’s name at the top and under it we asked visitors to write how our son was special to them. These encouraging words helped greatly. Also we requested each visitor to bring their favorite scripture verse when visiting and leave it up on the wall, so we could recount the visit and what made that verse special to that person.
  10. It was helpful to remember to be mindful to stay well. We realized that if we became sick we could not take care of our child. Since cancer patients often have low blood counts, they can easily pick up something that could become difficult to fight off. We had to remind ourselves to eat (even if we were not hungry) and to sleep whenever possible to help our bodies stay well during the hospital stay. Realizing that we as parents needed to focus on our health was a difficult thing to do. When your family is facing a life threaten illness; it is too easy to become totally focused on the one who is sick. So when others came for a visit, we would us this time to eat or sleep knowing they had company for a period of time.
  11. It was helpful to remember that your child often watches your reactions. Once, while a family member was crying, our son asked if he was dying. We then realized how much he gauged his heath according to our reactions. Knowing that little eyes were watching our every move made us very aware of our reactions.
  12. It was helpful to remember that you may be the parent of more than one child. We had two other children to care for and to think about. How could we be in two places at once? Since we knew we could not, we were mindful to have one parent home when out two other children were home and to set aside personal time for each child. This sends the message that they are important and loved too. When you are a single parent, incorporate the help of others around you who care and want to help.
  13. It was helpful to remember that when one person faces a medical diagnosis, the whole family faces it too. We would often say that when our son was diagnosed with cancer the whole family has cancer too. Each family member’s life was now changed. Now there were new things to do, and new schedules to keep. Hospital visits would now become routine and the home environment would change drastically. Mom and dad now took on new responsibilities and the siblings do too. It was a difficult time for everyone, and sitting down taking the time to talk become vitally important. Sitting together to ask and answer questions is helpful. We were a team, a family and we wanted to all work together toward the same goal.
  14. It was helpful to remember to incorporate the other siblings in the care of the one who is sick. This was not difficult because the needs of the family are numerous. Certain things needed to be done everyday, from the simplest (holding a brothers hand) to the most difficult (waiting for a long hours in a hospital setting). Incorporating the care of the one who is sick by other family members makes the family bond grow even stronger.
  15. It was helpful to remember to give your child a job to do. This often seems strange when we tell others about this request we asked of our son, but it worked so very well. Our son was totally focused on his treatment at the beginning of his illness. After several months, he would cry when entering the hospital because he knew what was ahead of him. Then a dear friend made a valuable request. She asked him if he would like a job to do. His job was to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ to those who were sick and in need of a helping hand. When our son realized the importance of helping others, he quickly refocused his thoughts on them. He would often talk with those who were going through treatment, telling them that they were not alone, and help them by holding their hand during difficult times. This changed his whole outlook and thus, he found purpose in being at the hospital.
  16. It was helpful to remember that no one knows your child like you. Being your child’s primary caregiver, you will know all the specifics of your child’s life and all the things that make your child unique and special. The personality of each child is so very different. The hospital staff knows this too, and will work with you regarding your child’s needs. This information is useful in a hospital setting, since there will be opportunities when you will use this information to help in specific situations with your child. Knowing all the specifics of what makes your child unique will come in handy during times of diagnosis, medical procedures, stress, and fears. Others will look to you to see how to handle certain issues, and you will most likely know how respond since you are the ones who know your child best.

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