Navigating the Hospital pt. 2

Understanding and Supporting Your Child During A Hospitalization

As a parent, you may not know how to support your child during a hospitalization or medical procedure. If newly home, you may not feel as if you fully know or understand your child’s personality or temperament. Learning how the hospital stay may impact your child will help you understand and support your child.

Children at different ages and stages of development respond to the hospital differently. As an adoptive parent, it is also important to remember that your child’s experiences prior to coming into your home could greatly impact their coping abilities and overall experience in the hospital. One key thing to remember, is that for every year a child is in an orphanage, they could be 6 months behind developmentally. Initially, we will look at the general stages of development in order to understand where your child is developmentally and then review how a hospitalization may impact those developmental stages. Secondly, we will look at common stressors for children in the hospital and possible responses to the stressors.

Developmental Stages:

  • Infant (0-1 years): Children in this stage are building attachment with those around them and learning trust or mistrust in their caretakers. They are also exploring the world around them and exploring the concept of cause and effect.
  • Toddler (1-3 years): Toddlers are seeking to learn autonomy and when they can do things on their own or when they have to depend on others. At this age, they also have an increased understanding of symbolization and what that means for the world around them. Toddlers have an egocentric perspective on the world, meaning they only see their perspective, and how they are affected by things rather someone else’s perspective.
  • Preschooler (3-6 years): Children in this stage of development are in a transition period, transitioning between depending solely on perception to more logical thinking. They are also beginning to understand that there may more than one factor influencing an event.
  • School-Age (6-12 years): School age children are beginning to increase their ability to think logically in concrete circumstances and better understand the importance or meaning of order, sequence, and order of actions.
  • Adolescent (12-18 years): Adolescents are in the midst of forming their identity and their place and role in the world around them. They also have increased deductive and abstract thinking.  

Stressors and Common Responses of Children in the Hospital

Stages of Development Stressors of                 Hospitalization Children’s Potential Responses*
Infant (0-1 year) Separation from parent,  Pain, Lack of stimulation


Distrust, Failure to bond, Anxiety,  Delayed skills development
Toddler (1-3 years) Separation from parent,  Fear of pain, Immobility,   Loss of routine, Frightening fantasies Regression, Uncooperativeness, Protests,            Despair ,Resistance , Temper tantrums


Preschool (3-6 years) Separation from parent, Fear of loss of control , Fear of body mutilation through procedures or surgeries Regression,  Anger, Acting out, Protesting, Despair and detachment, Aggression, and Withdrawal
School-Age (6-12 years) Separation from parent, Fear of loss of control and mastery, Fear of injury, pain, disability and death Regression, Depression, Displaced anger and hostility,  Inability to complete some tasks ,Frustration,  Uncooperativeness,  Withdrawal


Adolescence (12-18 years) Increased dependency on others , Separation from family and peers , Fear of loss of identity ,Body image, Concern about peer group and status Uncooperativeness , Withdrawal , Anxiety , and Depression

*note that not all children respond in this way but these are some possible responses of children at each stage of development

Conclusion:  Children are admitted to the hospital for a myriad of reasons and can stay for any length of time. From child to child, no health care experience will look the same. The goal of this article was to give you a brief picture of and examples of how they may react to the hospital experience. Remember that you know your child best and are their voice.  You should ask your child’s disciplinary team questions and advocate for your child.

Developed by: Charlie Ann Bishop, CCLS                                                                                                                                                                                Reference: Meeting Children’s Psychosocial Needs Across the Healthcare Continuum (2005) By: Judy Rollins, Rosemary Bolig, and Carmel Mahan