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Coping and Relaxation Tips

Children's Mercy wants to help your child and family cope and adjust during your health care journey. Use the links below to learn more.

Coping tips

  • Be honest and talk with your child about what to expect. Remember that children have active imaginations and if they do not have enough information, they will make up a story to fill in the gaps.

  • Encourage your child to express his/her feelings about his/her health care experience. This can be done in a safe way by writing a story, engaging in pretend play or drawing a picture.

  • Being there with your child is a great source of comfort for him/her.

  • Provide physical touch to your child to help him/her feel calm, relaxed, and secure. Examples of physical touch include swaddling and rocking a baby and stroking and cuddling children of any age.

  • Bring special and familiar objects from home to the hospital (for example, photos of the family/pets, favorite toys, stuffed animals, a pillow, etc.).

  • Allow your child to have choices and feel in control when possible. Allow your child to choose what to wear, what activity to do, what movie to watch or music to listen to, etc.

  • Praise your child for what he/she is doing well. For example, if your child is holding still during a procedure, tell him/her what a good job he/she is doing.

  • Let your child know that is it okay to cry. Crying is a good way for some children to cope.

  • Gather information from your child's doctor and the health care team. Write down questions you want to ask the doctor or nurse.

If your child is hospitalized:

  • Spend time with your child, but take time for yourself to eat, sleep and relax.

  • Remember to let your child know when you are leaving the hospital and when you are coming back to the hospital.

  • Help your child have a normal daily routine. Set limits for your child even at the hospital. Avoid too many gifts.

During your child's medical care, your child may have medical tests and procedures that they do not know much about.

Often with support from you, your child's nurse, and/or a Child Life Specialist, these tests and procedures can be less stressful for your child. These ideas can be used during most procedures including blood draws, IV starts, and taking your child's temperature or blood pressure. Please feel welcome to bring items from home that are comforting to your child, such as a blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal or favorite toy.

Infants (0-2 years)


Distraction

  • Use items such as bubbles, pop-up toys, light up toys and toys with different sounds.

  • Talk to your child, play peek-a-boo and sing to your child.

Relaxation

  • Play soft music, use gentle touch and massage, and hold your child in your arms or lap when possible during procedures.

Preparation

  • Show the procedure to your child on a stuffed animal or doll before the procedure is done to your child. For example, take a teddy bear's blood pressure before your child's blood pressure is taken.

Preschoolers (2-5 years)


Distraction

  • Help your child blow bubbles, sing a song, look at a book, or play with a toy.

Relaxation

  • Calm your child by telling stories, talking about a favorite activity, listening to music, dimming the lights, and holding your child on your lap or in your arms.

Preparation

  • Preschool-aged children see themselves as the cause of all events. Reassure your child that he/she did nothing to "cause" the illness or injury, and that "pokes" or painful procedures are not a punishment for bad behavior.

  • Provide your child with truthful, simple explanations of what is going to happen, so that he/she does not misunderstand or have unrealistic fears of the procedure.

  • Photo-teaching books. The Child Life Department has books made just for children and for their level of understanding. These teaching books include radiology (photos of CT and MRI) and surgery (photos of the operating room).

  • Visual aids. Child Life Specialists and/or other medical staff can help to show your child pretend and/or actual medical equipment. This allows your child to touch and explore the equipment before it is used for a procedure.

Support

  • Sticker/incentive charts. These charts help create a routine for getting "pokes" or medical procedures that can happen often during your child's hospital stay.

  • Give your child appropriate choices. Teach him/her that there is no choice about having some medical tests, but there are choices during the medical test. Your child may be able to choose whether to sit up or lie down during a procedure, whether to hold your hand, what to look at, or what to do after the procedure.

School Age (5-12 years)


Distraction

  • Give your child something to focus on such as books (Look and Find, I Spy, Lift the Flap), music (headphones, favorite CD), video games or talking.

Relaxation

  • Have your child do deep breathing-using bubbles or breathing in a pattern. ("Breath in through your nose for five seconds, then breath out through your mouth for five seconds").

Preparation

  • Truthfully tell your child what is going to happen. School-age children may have a lot of questions and may want to know details about a procedure, illness or injury.

  • Photo teaching books. The Child Life Department has books made just for children and for their level of understanding. These teaching books include radiology (photos of CT and MRI) and surgery (photos of the operating room).

  • Visual aids. Child Life Specialists and/or other medical staff can help to show your child pretend and/or actual medical equipment. This allows your child to touch and explore the equipment before it is used for a procedure.

Support

  • Encourage your child to ask questions and express feelings about the hospital, an illness or an injury. Answer questions honestly and help your child work through his/her feelings.

  • Talk about your child's feelings. Reassure your child that it's OK to feel mad, sad, or confused. Ask your child, "What can I do to make today better for you?"

Adolescents (12 years and up)


Distraction

  • Many teenagers like to have something to do during medical procedures such as video games, I Spy books or talking to a parent.

Relaxation

  • Help your teen relax by using music, deep breathing, and/or imagining a favorite place or activity.

Preparation

  • Tell your teen the reason for procedures and describe exactly what is going to happen.

  • Allow your teen to be involved in his/her care and decisions.

Support

  • Encourage your teen to keep in contact with friends and other teenagers.

  • Even though teens are becoming more independent, they still need you to continue to support them. Remember to talk to your teen often and offer your help, guidance and encouragement.

Siblings often have many different feelings when a brother or sister is receiving medical care. Each sibling may react differently to their brother's or sister's illness or injury. Some common reactions siblings may have include:

  • Guilt - siblings may feel that they are to blame for their brother or sister being in the hospital or being sick. They may think that something they did or said caused the illness/injury to happen.

  • Fear - siblings may worry that their brother's or sister's illness or injury will happen to them.

  • Jealousy - siblings may feel left out when the ill/injured child receives more care and attention from other family members.

  • Anger - siblings may be angry or upset about the changes at home and in their normal daily routine that the illness/injury has created.

  • Neglect - siblings may feel that their parent/guardian no longer loves or cares for them when more time is spent with the ill/injured child.

You know your children best and how they cope with change. Decide how much information you want to share with them.

What siblings may be imagining about their brother or sister could be much scarier than the truth. Be open, be honest and allow siblings to ask questions.

Before a sister or brother visits the hospital for the first time, make sure the sibling understands what the hospital is and what the nurses and doctors do. Explain some of the medical equipment that they will see in a way that they can understand. A Child Life Specialist can help to do this and can help make the visit more comfortable. Children's storybooks about the hospital are also helpful.

When siblings are unable to visit the hospital, they can keep in touch with their brother or sister by sending drawings, letters, photos and home videos.

Keep a normal routine as much as possible. Encourage siblings to go to school and take part in normal activities. Spend time together away from the hospital.

Prepare yourself first. Ask your child's doctor any questions or concerns you have regarding hospitalization. By obtaining accurate information you will be able to better prepare your child.

You know your child best, so talk with them about the hospital in terms they will understand and that are non-threatening.

Offer your child honest and developmentally-appropriate information.

Explain to your child why they are coming to the hospital and what will happen while they are here. Younger children should be told about hospitalizations no more than three days before they are to occur whereas older school age children or adolescents can be told up to a few weeks before.

Read books about going to the hospital. These books can be found at your local library.

Play is an excellent way to prepare your child for the hospital. Provide your child with medical equipment (play medical kit for younger children) so they can become familiar with these items. They can use the medical equipment on a stuffed animal or doll. As they are interacting with the materials ask them questions about how they feel about the equipment so you can clear up any misconceptions.

Reassure your child. Make sure they know that being in the hospital is not a punishment and everyone is there to help them.

Help your child express his or her feelings, whether it be talking about what is going on or answering questions.

What to bring to the hospital for an overnight stay:

  • Favorite blanket or pillow

  • Stuffed animal

  • Special pictures of family and friends

  • Special toy, game or videos

  • Pacifier

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste

  • Pajamas, robe and slippers

  • Books or magazines

View more resources on our What to Expect page.