Nov 2020

Your child's hospital stay at The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH)

Published in General on November 09, 2020

A visit to hospital can be frightening for a person of any age, but especially for children. The following information will give you some ideas to help you and your child before, during and after their visit to The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH), and will help you know what to expect.

Before you come to hospital

Getting organised

  • Find out all the information you need about your child's surgery or hospital stay from relevant people at the hospital. Ask any questions you have about staying in hospital (e.g. accommodation and parking arrangements). 
  • Some departments have pre-admission educational material specific to their procedures (e.g. videos for children explaining what to expect when they visit), so check with the medical team if there are resources you can access. 
  • Get together a list of things you will need to bring with you.
  • Try to arrange for the care of your other children, and organise any other arrangements for your home. Your family and friends will be pleased to have a specific task to do to help you through this experience.
  • For more information about the hospital, including ward guides, car parking, visiting hours and activities, download the My RCH app.

What to tell your child about their hospital visit

Tell your child honestly and truthfully why they need to come to hospital. If your child is under six years of age, tell your child a couple of days beforehand. If they are more than six years old, tell them a week or two beforehand. Telling your child before coming into hospital gives them time to prepare by asking questions and talking with you and others. Use simple words your child will understand.

Be careful about using humour or making jokes about going to hospital with your child. Joking around with adults can lighten up a potentially stressful situation; however, in children, humour has not yet developed in the same way. Jokes in this situation may be confusing or frightening for children.

Child life therapy

The Child Life Therapy department runs a  pre-admission program. Through play, a child life therapist will help your child understand what they can expect when they come into hospital. They can also answer many of your own questions about the visit.

Child life therapists will show you the areas of the hospital that your child will visit during their stay, which will help to make the surroundings feel more familiar. They will show your child any dressings, plasters, splints, IV (intravenous) drips and other equipment they may need before or after their surgery or procedure, and explain their purpose through play. Your child will also be prepared for having an anaesthetic (going to sleep) – again through play and demonstration.

Bookings are essential for attending a pre-admission program, and can be made from several weeks to several days before your child's admission to hospital.

Preparing your child for hospital – tips and ideas

  • Depending on the age of your child, give them plenty of opportunities for 'hospital play'. You can get them to do things like bandaging a teddy, listening to a family member's heartbeat, practising taking medicine.
  • Read books together about going to hospital. Your local library, school, kindergarten or childcare centre may be able to help.
  • Be prepared for your child to ask the same questions several times. Each time you answer them, they will absorb a little more information, as well as gain reassurance from you.
  • Involve your child in the preparations for hospital. For example, help them with packing their bag, including items such as: 
    • a favourite doll, blanket, teddy or other comfort item
    • a favourite activity, or maybe a new one especially for hospital
    • toiletries and new pyjamas
    • photos of family members and pets at home.
  • Remember to pack any regular medications that your child is taking, including creams, puffers and autoinjectors (e.g. Epipen). Even if they are not used during the hospital stay, it is important that any regular medications are documented in your child's medical record.
  • Tell your child's school, kindergarten or childcare centre about the upcoming hospital visit. They will also be able to help prepare your child and, for longer hospital admissions, work with the hospital to ensure your child stays in touch. You could also give them a copy of this fact sheet.
  • Reassure your child that you will be coming and staying with them. If they are having a general anaesthetic, you will usually be able to stay with your child before their surgery until they are asleep. You can also be with them in the recovery room after the operation.

What to bring to hospital for yourself

  • Layers of comfortable clothing.
  • Personal items if you are intending to stay overnight with your child.
  • Medicare and any other health insurance information.
  • Books or other reading materials and activities for yourself.
  • A note book and pen to write down any questions or information you need.

During your child's hospital stay

You are encouraged to be with your child on the ward as much as possible during their hospital stay. Parents and regular caregivers are an invaluable member of their child's care team as they know their child best.

  • Usually, you will be able to stay overnight in the hospital ward with your child. This will usually be in a sofa bed or a reclining chair next to your child's bed.
  • Ask the ward staff about visiting times for other family members and friends.
  • You are encouraged to continue the day-to-day care of your child while they are in hospital (e.g. feeding them and changing nappies as required, cuddling and playing with them, helping to shower/bathe them, and going with them for medical procedures, tests or treatments).
  • It is important that all medicines are managed by nursing staff while your child is in hospital, even those given regularly at home. You are welcome to be involved in the administration of medicines, but you need to discuss this with your child's nurse to ensure that the correct medicine and amount is given. Tell your child's nurse or doctor about any medication you have given your child so that we don't give any extra doses. 
  • Remember to take breaks and look after yourself. This will mean you are better able to support and care for your child. The hospital's Family Hub is a supportive place where you can go for a rest and to get a hot drink. Having a child in hospital can also be a scary and tiring experience for a parent.
  • If you are breastfeeding your child, you will be provided with meals throughout your child's stay.
  • Speak to your nurse or ward clerk about signing up to My RCH Portal. The portal will allow you to manage appointments, see test results and view a list of medications your child is prescribed.

Communicating with your child's care team

When your child is admitted to hospital, they will be placed under the care of a home team (your primary contacts responsible for the medical care of your child).

  • In addition to your home team, your child may be seen by other medical professionals and consultants. They will report back to your home team, so if you have any questions about your child's treatment, ask members of your home team.
  • During ward rounds (when the doctors come to review your child), you can ask questions regarding your child's care and treatment plan. It may be helpful if you write these down beforehand so you don't forget, as the ward rounds can be a busy time.
  • If you are at all unsure about what is happening with your child's care, feel free to ask your home team any questions you have. When you are under stress you may need to hear the same piece of information a couple of times before you fully grasp it, and staff understand this.
  • If you need to talk about your child's treatment or any other concerns, it is sometimes best to do this away from your child. Even if they appear to be busy playing, children may be actively listening still, and may become worried if they sense you are concerned or upset.

Getting ready to go home

On the day of discharge, you will usually be expected to leave by 10am. Try to arrange the day before for someone to pick you up, and then you will just need to confirm on the morning that you are ready to go home.

  • Remember to ask for any medical certificates you may need for your child's care or school, or your own workplace.
  • Ensure you have, and understand, the instructions for your child's care at home. This includes any medications and any follow-up appointments needed.
  • Ensure all the information that you need is in included in your discharge paperwork, including a phone number of the ward nursing staff so that you can ring if you have any concerns after you go home.

When your child gets home

It is not unusual for a child to show some behaviours that are different to normal when they leave hospital. For instance, they might be clingy, attention-seeking or have 'babyish' behaviours (e.g. sucking their thumb) that they had previously grown out of. A visit to hospital is a big event in a child's life, even if it is only for a day procedure. Stick to your usual routines and give them some time, patience and understanding. Your child will soon return to their normal self.

Again, allow your child plenty of time to play being in hospital once they are home. They have more information and experience now, and may need to play out these experiences to make sense of and cope with them.

Brothers and sisters may also be clingy or show attention-seeking behaviours. Having their sibling in hospital has been different for them too, so allow time for their questions and try to involve them in events.

Key points to remember

  • Be honest about telling your child why they need to come to hospital.
  • Involve them in the preparations for hospital e.g. help them with packing their bag and choosing special toys to bring to hospital.
  • Allow plenty of time for play and questions about coming to hospital.
  • Remember to take breaks and look after yourself during your child's stay.
  • Feel free to ask any questions you have about your child's care and treatment plan.
  • Allow your child some time to readjust when they return home again.

For more information

The Royal Children's Hospital: Child Life Therapy; ph. 03 9345 9300

The Royal Children's Hospital: Pre-Admission Resource Centre; ph. 03 9345 4115

Source: rch.org.au