Being separated from a family member can be stressful for children at any time. Being separated from a parent - because that parent is hospitalized, because the parent is often visiting another family member who is in the hospital, or because the child is hospitalized - can be even more stressful. A lack of communication between the hospital and home, the loss of a normal routine, uncertainty about what is expected and a loss of control over the situation can affect children of all ages, in a number of ways. But there are some things you can do to help children cope.
Help with Separation
If your child is in the hospital, make sure she has her favorite items from home. Consider recording your voice, perhaps while reading a favorite story or singing a favorite song. If you're hospitalized and your child is at home, use familiar caregivers to help ease your child's stress, and keep your child in her home environment if possible.
Help with Communication
If you can, have frequent phone conversations with your child. Send him e-mails or text messages, write letters, keep a journal or scrapbook about what's happening at home to share with the parent or child when he or she returns, or make greeting cards for each other.
Familiarize the Environment
Let your child take her favorite things to the hospital or to the place she may be staying while you're hospitalized. Help your child paint or color pictures to decorate the hospital room, or make a collage that is "all about" the parent who's hospitalized.
Maintain Normal Routines
Routines are important to children, so sleep, eat and play at regular times that your child is familiar with. If you're hospitalized, try to make sure your child's caregiver is familiar with your family's routines and habits. As much as possible, try to keep appointments and commitments.
Provide Understanding and Mastery
Help your child understand what's happening. Talk to him in an age-appropriate way about the patient's (or his own) diagnosis and prognosis. Use clear, simple terms, honestly answer questions and allow your child to make acceptable choices so he feels some control over the situation.