Helping children with hospital stays - Raising Healthy Kids

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There are ways to make the experience less difficult. (WPVI)

No parent wants their child to need an invasive medical test or hospital stay, but when it happens, there are ways to make the experience less difficult.

Now that her surgery is done, 10-year-old Janelle Gonzalez is a real hospital veteran.

But she gained a lot of her knowledge before she went in to the hospital, talking to her parents, and child life specialists like Andrea McGinnis of Children's Hospital.

McGinnis says kids need to know what's happening and why - that it's because part of their body is sick, not because they did anything wrong.

Shielding them from information often backfires.

"They can really have a much more difficult time coping with being in the hospital. They tend to use their imagination in those situations and create really a scarier situation," McGinnis said.

Tell youngsters what's happening one day ahead for each year of their age. For example, if a child is 5, tell them 5 days before.

And use honest, simple, concrete terms, don't sugarcoat it, or use make-believe words.

McGinnis says if not, when kids hear the real terms in the hospital, they might think there's something else wrong, too.

Kids themselves can use another tool to ease their worries, touring Children's Hospital on its Kids Health Galaxy website.

There's a section explaining many common medical procedures.

Specialists like McGinnis also use medical play dolls to explain procedures.

These days, parents can be with their child 24/7 in the hospital and their room can be a home away from home.

"Bring their comfort items, or their favorite toy or stuffed animal or their blankie, so they can feel as comfortable as possible," McGinnis said.

McGinnis says kids who are well prepared not only cope better in the hospital, they heal faster and they're more at ease with future medical visits.

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