Prepare for hospital and treatment center visits

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Cancer treatment can involve short but frequent visits to the hospital as an outpatient (day treatment) or a longer stint as an inpatient (staying overnight). A visit to hospital can seem strange and confronting for a person of any age, but especially for children. You might worry that your children will get anxious if they see people with cancer in hospital or having treatment. If you are a parent with cancer, however, you may worry about your kids being separated from you.

Ask your kids if they want to go to the hospital or treatment center. If they would prefer not to, don’t insist on them coming in.

If they are keen to visit, the following may help prepare them.

  • Before children enter the hospital room, tell them what to expect and what they may notice: the equipment; different smells and noises (e.g. buzzers, beeps); how the patients may look (e.g. tubes, bandages, a drip or catheter bag full of urine hanging on the side of the bed); doctors and nurses might keep coming in and out to check on the patients.
  • You may be able to arrange with the nursing staff for children to look at pictures or see some of the equipment in an empty room before visiting their sibling with cancer.
  • If your kids are reluctant to go to the hospital, their first visit could just be to the ward lounge room. Reassure them that this is okay and that they can send a card or call, if they prefer.
  • Let your kids decide how long they want to stay. Small children tend to get bored quickly and want to leave soon after arrival. They may want to help by getting you a drink or magazine from the hospital shop.
  • Have a friend or relative come along. They can take the kids out of the room if they feel overwhelmed and then take them home when they’re ready to leave.
  • Bring art materials, books or toys to keep them occupied. Older children may want to play cards or board games with you. Or you could simply watch TV or listen to music together.
  • If the hospital stay will be longer, ask the kids to make the room cosy with a framed photo or artwork they’ve made.
  • After the visit, talk to them about how they felt and answer any questions they may have.
  • Ask the staff for support. Nursing staff and hospital social workers are sensitive to children’s needs during this difficult time and could talk to your children if necessary.

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