Tips for parents when your child is hospitalized

Sometimes, even the strongest and healthiest kiddos need to be hospitalized.

For me personally, it was for a tonsillectomy at age 5 and then an ear drum repair at age 12.

For others, it’s for surgery to patch a broken bone or treatments to stabilize an asthma condition.

Whatever the reason, if your beloved child must spend a night or more at the hospital, it’s an experience that’s almost impossible to prepare for as parents.

That’s why I decided to share some tips and learnings we found out the hard way during our sweet kiddo’s unexpected stay at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in the summer of 2021.

Honestly, if your child has to be hospitalized anywhere, a pediatric hospital is always your first choice. We’re so lucky to have NCH in Columbus as it is one of the absolute best. We all felt we were in the best place possible to get Z well again. But, of course, it still wasn’t as good as being at home.

Following are some lessons learned from our little “medical getaway” in June 2021.

  • Enjoy the hospital food with your kiddo. The food at Nationwide Children’s hospital is surprisingly good. Each mealtime, kids can choose an entree plus as many sides or desserts as they want; those are billed to the room. An adult in the room is also able to get a parent tray for $5 cash plus tax (you’ll need exact change or you can let the food delivery person keep the change). I enjoyed eating with Z and we bonded over the hospital food. We would review and rate each meal together as we dined.
  • Stand up, stretch, wiggle and go for a walk around the floor. Depending on why your child is in the hospital, movement options may be somewhat limited. Still, even if you can just do some stretches from bed or wiggle around safely within the confines of an IV, it feels good to figure out how to allow some movement. Nurses often encourage patients to take a walk around the floor, so take advantage of this opportunity if you can.
  • Make the room feel as much like home as you can. Whether your child is hospitalized for one day or longer, it makes sense to bring a few cozy things from home to help brighten up the room. You don’t want to bring too much – because then moving out is a huge hassle with too many things to carry and haul back to the car – but it’s nice to have a few touches that make the room feel comfortable and familiar.
  • Take breaks whenever possible; practice self-care. As parents of a hospitalized child, I know the last thing you’re thinking about is yourself. Still, take a little time for yourself. Your kiddo is in the best possible care with many others looking after them and even helping to entertain them. When you can, take an hour here or there to take a walk, talk to a friend, grab a drink or snack and just breathe. E and I really didn’t do this much during Z’s initial hospitalization, but we have learned the importance of self-care time during her subsequent stays.
  • Your child is in good hands; take a date night for yourselves. Building on that last one – in addition to taking time for and by yourself, parents of hospitalized kiddos should also take a night off together to sneak in a date night if possible. Clearly, this is only if your child’s condition is stable and you can do so in good conscience. Hospital food gets old and you deserve to go out together and take some big, deep breaths and talk about how you’re both holding up. E and I didn’t do this on our first time around, but we absolutely did during Z’s last hospitalization.
  • You can sleep at the hospital with your child if you want to – but you don’t have to. E and I hate the thought of leaving Z in a strange place at night, so we took turns sleeping by her side for all of her first hospitalization and well into her second. However, at some point, we realized that she didn’t really need us to do that and it never made for a good or comfortable night’s sleep for us. We were better served by going home, sleeping in our own bed and jetting back down in the morning before she woke up for the day.
  • Be kind to the staff – they are your lifeline. This probably goes without saying, but the nurses, doctors and staff at pediatric hospitals are angels walking on earth and deserve all of your respect and compassion. Will everything be perfect, no – but it’s important to give everyone the benefit of a doubt and as much grace as humanly possible. You’re stressed and anxious because your kiddo is in the hospital, but it’s never okay to take it out on the staff.
  • Be grateful if you’re not on the top floor. Be hopeful if you are. As we have learned during our visits to Nationwide Children’s, the top floor is reserved for pediatric cancer patients. No matter what else is going on with your child, be thankful if you’re not staying on that floor. And if you are, then be ever hopeful because you’re definitely in the right place for the best care.

I’m sending mad love, compassion and strength out to all parents for whom pediatric hospital stays are a regular occurrence and not just a freak happenstance.

If you’ve had the experience of your beloved child spending time in the hospital, what are some other tips and insights you’d share with other parents?

As always, I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below or over on Facebook or Instagram.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.

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