Preparing Siblings for Visiting in Hospital
Questions to consider before a visit:
- What are the ages of the visiting children?
- What do they know about the hospitalization? What do you think they understand?
- How does your child usually handle stress?
- What do you think your children's fantasies are of what their sibling is
like right now? Which do you think is worse -- their fantasies or reality?
- How did your children learn that their sibling was hospitalized?
Children's developmental levels influence how they understand and process events
and information. The following section includes information about thoughts,
fears, and feelings common in children of various ages, as well as possible
responses of interventions to address these developmental needs.
- Believe that their thoughts, actions or wishes caused the accident or illness.
- Learn from children what they believe made their sibling sick or injured,
then address any potential issues…"Lots of children think that,
but it rarely happens that way."
- Fear that this will happen to them.
- Reassure them that this will not happen to them, if that is accurate.
If the patient was involved in a trauma, ask the child what can be done
to prevent that sort of accident.
- Feel anger and/or see a sense of abandonment with separation from parents
during stressful times. They may believe that they deserve punishment or that
further abandonment will result.
- Acknowledge and accept their feelings…"If you were in the
hospital, where do you think your parents would be? What do you think
your parents would do?"
- Believe that staff members are hurting their sibling.
- Say, "The nurses and doctors job is to help stop the hurting,
or keep it from getting worse." "Here is how the nurse and doctor
- Have a weak understand of internal bodies.
- Use illustrations or children's anatomy books. Ask the children to
draw what they think or imagine.
- Explanations of their siblings illness or injury may have nothing to do
- Provide honest, accurate information, updating as necessary due to
changes in patients condition or due to sibling needs.
- Wonder if something they did caused the illness or injury. "If I had done
something differently, this wouldn't have happened.
- Ask "What makes you think that?" Explain, “Lots of children
think that, but it rarely happens that way." Give concrete examples:
"If you wished this object to fall, could you make it happen?"
- Worry, "Can I catch it?" and may not want to touch or go near
- Ask, "Do you think that you can catch this from touching?"
Explain, "We wouldn't let you touch him or her if that would happen."
- Wonder, "Will the patient be the same?"
- Possible responses:
- Probably, we hope so.
- He/ she need lot of help to get better.
- It may take a long time.
- We are not sure that all of the parts of her/ her body will work
the same way. We can hope that they will.
- Are likely to have a sense that they are being watched
- Provide privacy as appropriate. Ask if they prefer to be alone or have
family staff close by.
- May talk in medical jargon without fully understanding meanings.
- Ask what they understand about what is going on. Reassure them that
there are adults who don’t understand many parts. Ask, "What
does that mean to you?"
When possible, use a Polaroid photograph to aid in preparing children for what they will see and experience at bedside. Briefly describe medical equipment that children will see and/ or hear.
Suggestions for Explaining Medical Equipment to Children
- IV -- Medicine that works best when it goes right Into
the Vein. The quickest way to help someone get medicine.
- Restraints -- "Until she is more awake, these will
help make sure that she doesn’t grab or pull a tube by accident."
- NG tube -- Like a very soft straw that goes down her throat
to her stomach; to help her stomach stay empty and resting while her body
is working to get better; or to give her body tiny bits of food a drip at
a time, so her body won’t have to work hard.
- Ventilator/ Respirator -- Helps him/her get enough air
in and out; helps her take good, deep breaths and get plenty of air while
she is asleep or very sore or while her body is working to get better.
- N.P.O. - nothing to eat
- Electrodes, leads - Like Band-Aids with strings that go
to the machine. A soft jelly-like medicine can feel exactly how a heart is
beating and turn it into a picture on the monitor screen.
- Foley bag - To collect and measure pee (use family term).
Inside him/her there is a very soft, small tube that helps the "pee"
come out. The tiny soft tube connects to the bigger tube that you see.
This page was last updated on:
- Jessica's X-Ray by Pat Zonta. (school age)
- A Trip to the Hospital by Kim Watson. (preschool, school age)
- Cooper gets a CT Scan by Karen Olson. (preschool, school age)
- Going to the Hospital by Fred Rogers. (toddler, preschool)
- A Visit to the Sesame Street Hospital by Deborah Hautzig. (toddler, preschool)
- Franklin Goes to the Hospital by Paulette Bourgeois. (toddler, preschool)
- Let's Talk About Going to the Hospital by M. Johnson. (preschool)
- Why Am I Going to the Hospital? By Claire Ciliotta. (preschool, school age)
- Maggie and the Emergency Room by Martine Davison. (preschool, school age)
- Helping Children to Overcome Fear by Russell Evans (school age) (teens)
May 10, 2011.
For more information about UMCH or to make an appointment,
please call 1-866-408-6885 (patients) or 1-800-373-4111 (physicians).