Childhood Cancer

Your Child in the Hospital

Staying with your child

One of the biggest worries a child often has in the hospital is being separated from her parents. If you stay at your child’s side, you can provide comfort, entertainment, and advocacy. Whether your child is admitted to a children’s hospital or the pediatric floor of a community hospital, the staff usually know how much better most children do when a parent sleeps in the room. The room might have a small couch that converts into a bed, or you can sleep on a cot provided by the hospital.

Sometimes it isn’t possible to stay with your child if you are a single parent or if both parents work full time. Many families have grandparents, aunts, uncles, or close friends stay at the hospital when parents cannot be there. Older children and teenagers may not want a parent in the room at night, but they will likely need an advocate there during the day just as much as younger children do.

My daughter has had several major surgeries since she was 15. Generally, the nurses tell me that I cannot stay with her in the room overnight because she is old enough to take care of herself. Well, I’m a nurse, and in our family, whether you are an adult or child, someone stays with you in the hospital around the clock. So, I just nicely tell them, “I will be quiet, I won’t get in your way. As a matter of fact, I’ll help out quite a bit. But I am going to stay.” And I do.

If your child does not have a cell phone, show her how to use the telephone in the room for times when a family member cannot be present. If he does have a cell phone, make sure it’s fully charged. Tape a phone number nearby where you can be reached and instruct your child to call if anyone proposes an unexpected change in treatment. Tell hospital staff that only you can authorize such changes, unless the situation is life-threatening.

Illness and hospitals can make children feel like their bodies are being invaded. Your child may feel better if you take responsibility for some nursing care. Children sometimes prefer parents to help them to the bathroom or to change dirty sheets. If you can make the bed, keep the room tidy, and give back rubs, you will free nurses to spend more time providing medical care for your child.

If you encourage your child to make choices whenever possible, you may help her regain a sense of personal power.

• Older children should be included in all discussions about their treatment.

• Younger children can decide when to take a bath, which arm to use for an IV, what to order for meals, what clothes to wear, and how to decorate the room.

• Some children request a hug or a handshake after all treatments or procedures.

My 4-year-old daughter had to take a lot of medicine when she was in the hospital. But, we let her choose the order she took them in (“white pill first or yellow?”) and what to chase it down with (soda was a big treat so it made the pills go down easily!). She picked what she got to wear, what stuffed animal was duct taped to the IV pole, whether she was going to watch TV or listen to music, and when we went for our walks around the hospital. Feeling “in charge” made her feel better.