Tips for Supporting Your Child

From watching a child undergo treatment procedures to explaining confusing medical terminology, Texas Children's Child Life Department knows that caring for a child while he or she is in the hospital can be a challenging and emotional time for a parent. By educating yourself about the issues your child may face in the hospital, you'll be better equipped to help him or her cope with any matters that may arise.

Resource for Your Child

The Child Life Department created an activity book to introduce your child to the different medical staff and help explain experiences he or she may have while in the hospital. By working through these activities together, we hope you and your child will begin to feel more comfortable with the hospital setting. Please print the activity book for you and your child to work on together before or during your hospital visit.

General tips for any age

Be honest

Answer your child's questions clearly and avoid making promises about aspects of your child's care that may be unknown. (i.e. "I promise they won't give you any shots," or "We won't have to spend the night.").  Patients who have incorrect information about the hospital or who feel they have been given misinformation can develop trust issues that affect their entire hospitalization and future medical experiences.

Supporting your child

As a parent you know your child best, which is why we encourage you to be present during medical procedures. We understand that the hospital setting can be stressful for you and your child. Children of all ages sense parental anxiety and, in turn, become more anxious themselves. If you are unable to provide emotional support during a medical procedure, due to stress or anxiety, we recommend you step out of the room and a plan will be put into place to ensure continued support for your child.

Bring familiar items from home

Because hospitals are an unfamiliar environment for most children, patients of all ages benefit from having familiar items from home. For younger children, these may include favorite toys, stuffed animals, pajamas, pacifiers and other comfort items. For older children and adolescents, favorite items may include video games, movies, books or music. Patients of all ages can also benefit from having pictures of family members, pets or friends placed at bedside.

Know what is normal

The stressors of hospitalization often cause patients to regress and exhibit behaviors they have previously "outgrown". For example, toddlers may stop talking and choose to crawl instead of walking. Preschoolers will often exhibit increased stranger anxiety and sometimes begin wetting the bed again.  

Medical Play – A Guide for Parents (PDF)

Medical play allows your child to use medical supplies in any way they choose to assist with their understanding and enhance coping. The link above guides caregivers in facilitating medical play with their child.

Age-specific tips

Infants/toddlers (Download PDF)

  • Spend as much time holding and talking to your baby as his or her condition allows.
  • If you are comfortable, remain close to your baby during procedures.
  • Try to maintain a familiar schedules (i.e. feeding times, nap times, etc.) as possible.
  • Provide opportunities for your child to play. Use toys that she can easily manipulate despite the medical equipment she may need.

Preschoolers (Download PDF)

  • Medical terminology can be misleading for patients at this age. Be sure to use clear terms when describing tests and procedures. For example: say "CT" instead of "CAT scan" so children do not anticipate seeing a room full of cats during their test.
  • Preschoolers think in concrete terms, so showing them the actual medical equipment they will encounter may be beneficial. Child life specialists can help children manipulate the equipment for better understanding.
  • Avoid asking patients if they are ready for something to happen ("Are you ready to take your medicine?") unless you know that the time frames are flexible.
  • Assign your child a "job" during treatment to give him or her a feeling of control. For example, “your job is to hold your arm still when they take your blood”.
  • Preschool patients often view illness and medical procedures as punishment. Reassure your child that everything the medical staff does is to make him or her feel better and is not done because of anything he or she may have done “wrong.”
  • Maintain a normal routine as much as possible and allow plenty of opportunity for your child to play and express himself creatively.

School Age (6-12) (Download PDF)

  • School age patients are able to understand their illness or injury and recognize symptoms. They can also reason and understand more abstract concepts, such as time and cause and effect. Diagnosis and treatment information should be given in relation to the symptoms they are experiencing. For example, a school age child with appendicitis is able to understand the link between the need for surgery and his abdominal pain going away.
  • Involve your child in discussions related to their care as much as possible. In most cases, the more a patient's understanding increases, the more compliant they will be with procedures. Encourage them to ask questions of you and the medical staff rather than withholding information, which can cause resentment.
  • School age children develop their own body image. Respect your child's desire for privacy when possible and encourage hospital staff to do the same.
  • Peer groups are important to patients of this age. Encourage phone calls, cards and/or visits from friends, and persuade them to visit the Zone so that they can interact with other patient's their age.

Adolescents (13+ years) (Download PDF)

  • Adolescents are able to understand their condition and treatment and should be involved in discussions about the diagnosis and plan of care. Encourage them to ask questions, and arrange a private discussion for your teen and the medical team, allowing him to speak more freely and receive more accurate information.
  • Respect your teenager's sense of privacy. Teenagers tend to internalize more questions and concerns than younger children in an attempt to work problems out themselves.
  • Teen’s concerns about body image are magnified during hospitalization. Their fears of bodily changes and being "different" are heightened. Make sure your teen understands the exact nature of the procedures and what kind of changes, if any, may be expected. 
  • Socialization is important for teenagers. Hospitalized teens often feel like they are "missing out" on things while they are admitted so give them opportunities to talk to friends and share their hospital experiences.  Encourage friends to call and visit the hospital so the patient can be involved in normal teenage experiences. Also encourage the patient to visit the The Child Life Zone in order to meet and interact with others their age.

Things to Do and Resources

16 West Tower

  • Hair Salon
    Hours:  Wednesday and Friday 12:00 – 6:00 pm.
    Phone: 832-826-1609
    What: Wash, haircut, and blow-dry for patients and parents. Patients must have permission pass from nurse
    Cost: No charge
  • West Tower Laundry Room
    Free washers & dryers.
    Soap is $.50 / box or available from Guest Services.
  • School Services & School Room
    Contact your Activity Coordinator for more information
  • The Child Life Zone
    Hours: Please refer to schedule posted on the door or speak with a child life staff member
    Phone: 832-826-1612
  • Kidz Our Studio
    Hours: Please refer to schedule posted on the door or speak with a child life staff member
    Phone: 832-826-1612


  • Merele C. Donigan Play Garden
    Hours: Dawn to Dusk\
    Where: Level 1, Abercrombie Building
    Who: Patients and siblings of all ages
  • Children’s Garden
    Hours: Dawn to Dusk
    Where: 4th floor, near the red elevators, Abercrombie Building
    Who: Patients and siblings of all ages
  • Choo Choo Hut Model Train Exhibit
    Where: Level 1, Abercrombie Building
    Who: Patients and siblings of all ages