Gemma Melisi, Play Specialist at the Royal London Hospital, has some tips for parents on how to help prepare your child for a hospital visit…

Preparing a child for hospital is very important, so that you all know what to expect. The thought might be worrying for children so it’s important to tell them, and any brothers and sisters, as much as they can understand before they visit us.

Play is great to prepare children for treatment, distract them during procedures and help them to understand what they have experienced. The key is to tailor your explanations and activities to your child’s age and level of understanding.

As babies and preschool children may have difficulty understanding time, it’s better to explain about coming to hospital only a short time beforehand. Activities, like playing doctors and nurses or using a favourite toy as the patient, can be really helpful.

Asking your child to draw pictures of what he or she is expecting can also help you to understand and address any worries or fears. Children often have misconceptions about hospital visits, so this can help you deal with them before going into hospital. Honest explanation about tests, operations or procedures is important. Younger children learn best through play, pictures and models instead of spoken words. Older children need clear information to help them understand what’s happening.

Be prepared for your child to ask the same questions several times. Each time you answer them, they’ll be absorbing a little more information, as well as getting reassurance from you. Plan what to take with you into hospital: a favourite doll, blanket, teddy or other comfort item.

Children undergo many procedures during Rb treatment, so it’s important to ensure the hospital visit goes as well as possible. Explain what will happen, particularly for procedures like eye drops and general anaesthetics. It can help to use the real equipment so children familiarise themselves with what they will see at hospital. Taking home a mask or some eye drop bottles for children to play with and use on their teddies, dolls or family members can help things become less scary.

Key points to remember

  • Be clear and honest
  • Tell your child as much as you can about what will happen
  • Use simple words
  • Answer any questions truthfully
  • Try to make the experience positive by telling them about the hospital and environment

Making a plan with the Rb team before any procedures can help to ensure everybody knows what will happen and when. The play specialists are happy to support and answer any questions you may have.

This article first appeared in INFOCUS Spring/Summer 2017.