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Preparing Your Child

Developmental Differences

Children at different developmental levels react differently to hospitalization. Knowing the behaviors that are typical for your child at various ages makes it easier for you to address them. It is also important for you to know how the stresses of illness and hospitalization affect your child's feelings and behaviors. We encourage you to spend as much time as possible with your child. Your involvement in your child's care is very important to your child's comfort and security. If you can't be here, try to have family and/or friends spend time with your child.

It is important to be honest with children, especially if something is going to hurt.

Below are possible reactions as well as suggestions to help comfort your child.

  • Children 3 years of age and younger

    Children younger than three years generally cannot understand their illness, or the new change in their familiar environment. They are more concerned about being away from their family and their home. Toddlers may have difficulty coping with these changes in their routines, especially related to eating, sleeping and toileting.

    You can help your child by being with them in the hospital. If you can't be here try to have family or friends spend time with your child.

  • Children 3 - 6 years old

    Possible Reaction: Children in this age often view the hospital and procedures as punishment.
    Suggested Response: Reassure your child that he/she hasn't done anything wrong.

    Possible Reaction: Loss of control and fear of the unknown.
    Suggested Response: Simple, honest and developmentally appropriate explanations can help children in this age range feel more secure. Bring a favorite toy, blanket or clothes from home which may be comforting. Encourage walking around or playing outside of his/her room with permission of medical/nursing staff.

  • Children 7- 12 years old

    Possible Reaction: Children in this age range are often worried about painful procedures; may believe that hospitalization and procedures are a form of punishment; and experience a loss of control and independence.
    Suggested Response:  It is very important to provide information to this age group. Ask staff, whenever possible, to inform your child in advance of what is going to happen (procedures, changes in the environment etc.). Giving your child choices when they exist is important in helping them regain some control.

  • Adolescents 12 and up

    Possible Reaction: Adolescents are concerned about loss of control; separation from their friends; and may be very self-conscious.
    Suggested Response: It is important to respect their privacy whenever possible. Encourage an adolescent to ask questions and include him/her in discussions and decision making. Support social interactions with friends via phone, email and visits.

  • Parents and caregivers

    The hospital environment is not only stressful for the child but also the family. It is very important for parents and caregivers to make sure to meet their own needs during this time. This will help best support your child.

If you would like to speak with someone further about developmental reactions, have questions or would like to participate in a support group, please contact the Family Resource Center at 914.493-8503.