Pointers for Visiting Hospitalized Children

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1) Make sure you call ahead and confirm that it is okay to visit on that date and time. You may even call a couple of hours before to make sure things have not changed with the hospital schedule. Also, understand that your visit may be interrupted by a doctor, nurse or procedure that needs to take place.

2) Be fully present during your visit, giving your attention and energy to the patient. We recommend that you take care of all your personal needs prior to the visit. For example, you should not use the patient’s restroom and you may want to make any phone calls prior to the visit so you can give all of yourself to the patient and his or her family.

3) Leave heavy bags and valuables in your car or at home as space is at a premium in hospital rooms and large items can get in the way and be a tripping hazard.

4) Don’t wear heavy perfume or cologne. Many patients are allergic and have lower resistance to odors and smells, even nice ones!

5) Wash or disinfect your hands at the hospital scrub station before you go into the room and also after leaving the room.

6) If you are bringing your child who is friends with the patient, anticipate that the initial hello may be awkward for both children, which is totally normal. You might want to have a conversation with your child prior to the visit to address any concerns or questions that they might have. You may first want to ask the child what their answers are to questions such as “Why do you think he’s in the hospital” or “How do you think he got sick”. In this way, you can provide accurate information and clear up any misconceptions they may have.

7) Bring a gift for the patient. It can be a card, book, magazine, stickers, poster or a memento that a child would like to keep in their room. It does not have to be expensive, just something to remind them that you care. Take note that some hospitals may not allow balloons, flowers or plants. If you are bringing food, make sure to ask about dietary restrictions and other hospital rules. Many children are on restricted diets (no candy or solid food).

8) Try to keep it upbeat. Patients and their families really appreciate and enjoy the distraction from illness, hospital routines and procedures.  You can also talk about the gift you brought or comment on something they have in the room (such as a teddy bear, poster, game, or photo), or discuss something that happened in the community.

9) Sometimes just being there is enough. Do not panic if there are times when you are not talking.  Do not feel that you have to over-compensate by talking every minute to fill in the silence.

10) Take your cues from the patient and do not overstay your welcome or tire the patient out. Parents frequently cannot leave their child’s room, even for short periods of time. Don’t be insulted if the parent cannot walk you to the elevator or spend time in the lounge talking with you.

11) Understand that the child may be drowsy from medication and their illness. The child may also feel self conscious — imagine how you’d feel if someone came to visit you and you were wearing your pajamas and had not taken a shower or washed your hair in a couple of days. Please do not personalize any lack of enthusiasm. There is a reason they are in the hospital (they are really ill or recovering from a procedure) and what you are seeing is the result of the illness and not a reflection on you.

12) Be supportive of parents (or caregivers). Often parents can’t leave the hospital room because the child might be afraid to stay alone. If you know the parents has a favorite food, offer to bring them a lunch or dinner. Hospital food can be expensive and gets boring after awhile. It would also be helpful to offer to stay with the child while parents take care of important errands, or even leave the patient’s room for a short time to make a personal phone call or take a walk.