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BODY WATCH : Making Hospitals Less Scary for Kids : Medicine: Simple explanations and plenty of notice can go a long way toward easing the anxiety of children who need medical treatment.

October 17, 1995|THE WASHINGTON POST

So your child is scheduled to be admitted to the hospital? Parents can help smooth the way by taking a few simple steps.

* Tell your child that a medical procedure will be performed. Some parents think they can protect children from anxiety by not mentioning the upcoming admission; in extreme cases, they may not tell their children about a medical procedure until they arrive at the hospital. It's best to begin talking about the hospital stay at least a few days ahead of time for preschoolers and about a week ahead for older children.

* Use a doll or stuffed animal to help explain what will happen. "Actually act through what is going to happen," says Dr. Michael Jellinek, chief of child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "Undress the doll or stuffed animal. Put it in pajamas. Take its blood pressure and temperature. Put it in a bed and wheel the bed around."

* Tell the truth. Saying a procedure won't hurt when it probably will undermines the parent-child relationship and could potentially create a long-term distrust of adults and medical personnel. But at the same time, experts say it isn't necessary to go overboard in describing every detail. Talk about how a shot may hurt for a little while and that your child is entitled to say a very big "ouch!"

* Consider your own feelings. If you had a bad experience as a child with a doctor or a hospital, you may project some of those feelings onto your child. Try to separate your experience from your child's.

* Go over any medical terms the child may need to know. They can sometimes be confusing to children. Stool collection can be misinterpreted as a set of small chairs.

* Take something familiar to soothe your youngster, like a favorite stuffed toy.

* Allow for a transitional period after the hospital visit as your child readjusts to home life. Don't be surprised to find your child reverting to some younger behaviors. But if these problems persist for more than a couple of weeks, consult your pediatrician or family physician.

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