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Helping Children Cope

Helping Children Deal with Stressful Health Care Situations

Familiar routines and activities can help children and teenagers cope with stressful health care situations by strengthening their sense of security and confidence. Here are some suggestions.

Maintain Consistent Routines

  • Provide familiar objects for your child, such as a blanket, stuffed animals and his/her own pajamas.
  • Encourage quiet activities, such as music, movies and books in the early stages after a procedure or surgery.
  • When your child is feeling better, encourage him/her to participate in activities provided by the Child Life Department, including arts/crafts, board games, video games, group activities and pet therapy visits.

Help Your Child Cope with Pain and Feelings

  • Continue to touch your baby or child and speak softly and reassuringly.
  • Offer pinwheels or bubbles to blow. Blowing helps with pain and rebuilds lung strength.
  • Give your child clay dough or pounding boards to help diffuse anger.
  • Help young children cope with routine medical care by giving him/her a “play doctor kit.”
  • Encourage older kids and teenagers to express their feelings in a journal.
  • Invite family and friends to visit as appropriate.

Help Siblings Cope

When a child needs heart surgery, it can be stressful on the whole family, including brothers and sisters. They often feel anxious about disrupted family routines. Here are a few suggestions for how you can help siblings cope.

  • Communicate openly and honestly about your child's heart condition with the siblings and encourage them to express feelings and ask questions.
  • When possible, it may be helpful to take along a family member or friend who can help keep the sibling(s) busy during your child's clinic visit. 
  • For longer hospital visits, make sure there is someone special, such as a grandparent or family friend, to spend one-on-one time with siblings. 
  • If a sibling wants to visit their brother or sister in the hospital, ask a child life specialist to help prepare him or her. Encourage siblings to help out their brother or sister by drawing a picture, watching a movie together or calling him/her on the phone.

Additional resources

Expressive Activities

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