Getting your toddler ready for a visit to the hospital
A visit to the hospital, for whatever reason, can be traumatic for your child. Here’s how to get her ready for it.

The last thing that you as a parent want to consider is the possibility that your child has to go to hospital. We are concerned that a healthcare experience can be traumatic for a child, and this might be true in some instances.

Children don’t even understand their own bodies, let alone the strange hospital environment with all its unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells. They often hear adult conversations or they might pick up words or part of a sentence that they don’t understand and give their own meaning to it.

They will try to make sense of a current situation according to previous experiences in their lives, which is very limited. Children usually regard pain and suffering as punishment for something they did wrong and when parents threaten their child with a visit to the doctor for an injection if they are naughty, they just strengthen the child’s belief that he is being punished for some wrongdoing when he has to go to hospital.

Fear of the unknown

Because they don’t have a lot of life experience, children will resort to whatever they know about a situation in order to make sense of what is happening to them. A boy whose grandfather died in hospital a few months ago might expect to die in hospital too, or a little girl whose mother previously went into hospital to have a new baby brother might be excited about the idea of getting a real life doll to play with when leaving the hospital.

Abstract concepts are difficult for children to understand and they tend to form pictures in their mind about life experiences. So when we explain to a child that the X-ray machine will take pictures of the inside of her body, she might be concerned about something she did that was naughty but that she thought will forever be hidden inside her body. And now the doctor wants to put this picture up on the wall for everybody to see?

As absurd as this might seem to us as adults, these are real life examples of children facing real fears and fantasies. However, it is possible to create a positive experience for a child in hospital and to assist her in developing coping strategies that will enable her to cope better with difficult situations in future.

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