Handling stress with kids in the hospital

Handling stress with kids in the hospital

By Jennifer Casperson RN, MSN, CPN
Pediatric Nurse

As the back to school sales begin, we are reminded that soon our kids will be back on the bus and returning to school routines.  As adults we may look forward to the return of a consistent routine or dread the increased activity that comes with sports, homework and friends.  For our children school can be both exciting and anxiety producing as well.

Stress can be a contributor to many illnesses and is something that we all can use help managing. (Want to find out how much you know about stress and your kids? Take this 5 question quiz here.) The questions bring up some great ways to manage stress daily for our kids; but what about the stresses of chronic illness or hospitalization?  What can you do for your child to decrease their anxiety in the hospital?

  • Bring familiar toys, blankets and comfort items.
  • Have a family member stay whenever possible to help ease anxiety and provide a familiar face.
  • Keep to home routines as much as possible.  Eat familiar foods at the usual times and keep to bedtimes.
  • Let your nurse and doctor know how your child shows they are painful or anxious and what you do at home to help.
  • Cuddle and watch a movie or read a book to your child for distraction.
  • Let your child know that everything that happens in the hospital is to help make them feel better not because they did something wrong.  (Young children can think they are being punished when hospitalized.)
  • It is tempting to say that “It won’t hurt.” But that can increase anxiety the next time if something does end up hurting.
  • Try not to give choices you can’t deliver, such as “If you take the medicine we can go home sooner.” This can also lead to hurt feelings and more stress for you and your child.
  • Remember it is ok to feel scared for your child. Manage your own stress by taking breaks and talking with family and nurses about your fears.

Naturally, some of these things are harder to manage than others. Your nurse and doctor want to plan your child’s care to provide sleep and comfort, and help to minimize everyone’s anxiety as much as possible.  Sometimes just talking with your care providers about your fears can help everyone feel better about the experience. Keep calm and cuddle up!

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