Finding Stability

Tips for Comforting Kids in the Hospital During Cancer Treatment

Kids in the hospital have to deal with cancer while missing the comforts of home. A special blanket, pillow or stuffed animal can help a child feel relaxed in the hospital.

When you have kids in the hospital, your life revolves around getting them healthy and making them comfortable. The American Childhood Cancer Organization is a learning resource to help your kids in the hospital feel more secure and at ease as they undergo treatment for cancer.

Bring the Comforts of Home

First off, work out a communication schedule so your child knows when to expect a call from you. Try to make sure a loved one is accessible to him all the time. If your child has a favorite pillow, stuffed animal or other item that provides him comfort, bring it to the hospital. You can use a blanket to make a small fort in the room for a hideaway spot, and hang some photos for homesick kids. Check with the hospital about the rules on bringing in a laptop or tablet for your child so they can stay in touch with friends and keep up with favorite TV shows or movies.

Reading and Writing

Reading will probably become your child’s go-to hobby while in the hospital. Organize a used book drive among your friends so all the children at your hospital can have a robust library to pick from. Have older kids donate books they loved from their childhood, and people can include notes with their selections to explain why this is such a special read.

Some kids will love keeping a journal while others may roll their eyes at the idea, but it’s a good idea to get them a notebook they can keep handy. Even if they’re not into writing down their feelings, they’ll have a place to take notes, write down questions for the doctor, track symptoms and doodle. Younger kids might love collecting stickers and drawing pictures with it.

Talk About Their Cancer Treatment

Sometimes the hardest part of helping kids in the hospital is dealing with the harsh realities of their condition. Kids usually know when you’re hiding information, and they will typically fill in the blanks with their vivid imaginations. Often their imaginary stories are scarier than the truth. Your word choice can help to set the tone. If your child asks if a procedure is going to hurt, lying won’t help but you could acknowledge that some kids find this procedure uncomfortable. Then focus more on the ice cream cone you’ll go out for afterward. Emphasizing something good that will come after can help ease this concern.

Sometimes when in the hospital for a long time, your child may experience an array of emotions. To help him express them, you can bring in a beach ball and dub it the “feelings ball.” Encourage anyone when holding it to express his deepest concerns or questions about being in the hospital. The ball can’t be passed until those feelings are acknowledged and addressed.

Keep Them in the Loop

Whenever possible, involve your child in the treatment scheduling and planning process. Cancer limits options, and that can make her feel powerless. This can also be applied to household decisions, even if she isn’t currently living there. Ask her opinion on your new couch or about her ideas for rearranging the garage. The ability to have a say, even in little things, can be helpful for a kid who is feeling out of sorts. Being upfront with your kid also helps to protect her ability to trust you, which will ease her overall anxiety.

As a parent, it’s a scary idea to have your child in the hospital. Through this experience, however, you’ll see a team of people come together and pull for your child.

The UVA Children's Hospital offers a number of support services that can ease the hospital experience for children with cancer.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley