Friday 6 November 2020

How Health Care Professionals Can Comfort Children During Their Hospital Stay

Having a child in the hospital for an extended period of time is a stressful, confusing, and scary time for both the child and the parents. Since parents can rarely be by their children’s bedside 24/7, it’s your role as a health care professional to step in as a comforter as well as a medical professional.

Children who are hospitalized, whether it’s for recovery from surgery or for continued treatment, will feel a number of emotions during their stay. Feeling scared and alone when their parents leave is common for children of all ages. Physical symptoms of these feelings could look like stomach and headaches, difficulty falling and staying asleep, increased separation anxiety, temper tantrums, and panic attacks. Understanding your young patients’ point of view during this time is key in comforting them while they are in the hospital.

Separation Anxiety Can Happen At All Ages

If you are looking after a child who used to have separation anxiety issues, be prepared for them to resurface during the early days of their stay, especially if you have a younger patient. Their parents still have work, errands, or other children to care for while this child is in the hospital—they may feel neglected and struggle being left alone. Aside from traditional separation anxiety symptoms like excessive crying during separation, you may see your young patient manifest their anxiety in other ways:

  • Throwing temper tantrums or getting physically angry when the parent tries to leave
  • Complaining about physical symptoms like stomach aches and headaches
  • Refusing to leave their parents’ side

Young children (under the age of five or six) usually struggle with separation anxiety more than teenagers, although teenage patients will still struggle in their own ways being left alone. Some ways to help younger patients who are experiencing separation anxiety can include:

  • Communicating with the children about their parents’ schedule and updating them on when they should expect them to be back.
  • Letting the child know that you have their parents’ contact information in case of emergencies.

Help create a daily routine for the child, including times for meals, entertainment, social activities, exercising, etc. this will keep their mind off of when their parents will return and bring back some normalcy into their lives.

Comforting Patients 1-12 Years Old

Children this young who are in the hospital for an extended period of time will need some additional TLC during their stay. Make sure they have a parent or extended family member with them during any painful or uncomfortable tests or procedures. This helps them feel less alone during an already isolating period of their lives. If they have any medical questions, make sure to be honest with them while also staying positive and upbeat. Don’t hide medical information from the patient, but because of their age, you should connect with their parents in case they have opinions on how they want to talk to their child about their medical issues.

Many hospitals have a pediatric life specialist you should consult and work closely with for most pediatric cases. They can help you figure out things like the best way to present medical information to the family and patient, and how to manage family visits. A lot of parents like to be close to their child and stay overnight—rules around overnight stays depending on your hospital’s rules and your patient’s condition (as always, the patient’s needs always come first). But having the parents close during the night can help comfort young children during their stay.

Comforting Hospitalized Teenagers

Most teenagers already love their private time and personal space—unfortunately, hospitals usually don’t have either. As their attending health care professional, be aware that teenagers in the hospital may want more time alone than younger patients. Family visits are still an important part of recovery during extended hospital stays and you should try to encourage that as much as possible. Social media also plays a large role in their lives—FOMO (fear of missing out) may make your patient more down sometimes since they’re stuck in the hospital. If their condition allows it, allowing friends to visit as well can boost their mood and may even help speed up their recovery.

Extended hospital stays for teenagers are hard because they lose so much of their usual schedule and social interaction. Try to make their everyday routine as close to what it would be outside of the hospital—as long as their condition allows it. Let them attend online classes through Skype or Zoom, work their job online, and have time to hang out with friends either on FaceTime or in-person. Each patient is different, but these routines are important in keeping their spirits up during this difficult time.


Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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